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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Lawsuits continue to pile up against Pilot Flying J over allegations that the nation’s largest operator of travel centers bilked customers out of fuel rebates.
Truck driver Mike Campbell of Holmes County, Miss., is the latest to bring a class-action suit against the company. His complaint, filed last week in federal court in Jackson, Miss., is at least the eighth suit filed against Pilot Flying J, according to The Associated Press.
The retailer has been racking up lawsuits ever since an April 15 raid of its Knoxville, Tenn., headquarters by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service. The FBI affidavit alleges that members of Pilot Flying J’s sales team deliberately withheld diesel fuel rebates to boost company profits and pad sales commissions.
The seven additional lawsuits that have been brought forth include:
- Atlantic Coast Carriers of Hazelhurst, Ga., filed in Knoxville's Knox County Circuit Court on April 20. It alleges Pilot Flying J converted consumer rebate funds to its own use; committed a pattern of racketeering activity that made the plaintiff lose money; and only partially carried out the obligations of their contract. The lawsuit, which also seeks class-action status, additionally states that Atlantic Coast Carriers deserves all the money it was promised, as well as punitive damages and attorney fees.
- Little Rock, Ark.-based National Trucking Financial Reclamation Services filed in the U.S. Eastern District of Arkansas on April 24. It claims Pilot Flying J withheld "tens of millions of dollars in diesel fuel price rebates and discounts from customers since 2005" and "engaged in conduct amounting to blanket fraud and continued, active concealment."
- W.T.W. Enterprises of Roanoke, Ala., and its owner Charles E. Winborn III filed in the U.S. Northern District of Alabama on April 25. The company charges that the rebate skimming scheme cost trucking firms in excess of $5 million. It contends that a class-action suit is necessary because it is "virtually impossible for all members individually to redress the wrongs done to them" in separate cases.
- Also on April 25, truck driver Bruce Taylor of Holmes County, Miss., filed in the U.S. Southern District of Mississippi. He claims the company withheld "tens of millions of dollars in diesel fuel price rebates and discounts from customers since at least 2005, in violation of state and federal law." His case seeks class-action status as well.
- Edis Trucking Inc. of Franksville, Wis., filed in the U.S. Northern District of Illinois on May 1. Its class-action suit was the first to specifically name Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam and other top company officials as individual defendants in the case. The suit alleges that Haslam and the others took part in "multiple, repeated and continuous acts of mail fraud and/or foreign wire fraud."
- Osborn Transportation of Gadsden, Ala., filed in the U.S. Northern District of Alabama on May 10. The trucking company estimates its loss at more than $75,000. It is seeking restitution, punitive damages and interest on the money lost.
- North Carolina truck driver Jerry Floyd filed a federal class-action lawsuit in the Northern District of Florida on May 17. The case was filed in Florida because that is where Floyd does much of his business. Floyd claims breach of contract, fraud and fraudulent concealment. The suit also contends that hundreds, if not thousands, of potential customers are eligible to join the litigation.
In an e-mail to the AP, Pilot Flying J spokesman Tom Ingram stated: “We’ve been advised by counsel [that] class-action lawsuits in a matter like this are expected and no surprise. Our counsel will review them as they come and defend them appropriately.”
Pilot Flying J has retained one of the country's top lawyers, Reid Weingarten, to serve as "special independent counsel" in this matter. Recognized by the National Law Journal as one of the nation's 100 most influential lawyers, Weingarten has been charged with overseeing and validating an internal investigation of the federal allegations that Pilot Flying J underpaid rebates on diesel fuel purchases owed to some of its trucking company customers.
The 120-page FBI affidavit filed in connection with the investigation states that the FBI began looking into the retailer after receiving a tip from a confidential informant in May 2011.
As the company's legal woes mount, Haslam has maintained that he wasn't aware of any inconsistencies in the company's rebate program. In a recent address to the trucking industry, he apologized for the "actions of our people" and vowed "to make things right." He also noted that a review underway by auditors shows that approximately 250 trucking companies out of 400 were on a "manual" fuel rebate program and may have problems with their rebates.
Pilot Flying J is a family owned business that operates more than 650 retail locations and is the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in North America.