KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam pointed to claims of failure to pay rebates to trucking customers as the reason behind Monday afternoon's raid on the company's headquarters. However, federal officials are still not talking as they reportedly executed a second search warrant.
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Haslam held a short press conference this afternoon (see video above), telling reporters the claims are from a small number of customers, but he didn't know the exact number. He also said he didn't know what documents were seized during the search by agents from the FBI and Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Some sales people were subpoenaed, but he declined to say whom. Haslam noted he has not been subpoenaed.
"It does not involve any tax issues," the chief executive said at the company's headquarters in West Knoxville. "To my knowledge, there was no evasion of state or federal taxes involved."
As CSNews Online reported yesterday afternoon, FBI and IRS agents locked down the Pilot Flying J headquarters on Lonas Drive. The media was barred from entering the campus and employees were escorted off the campus.
FBI spokesman Marshall Stone told The Associated Press that the move was part of an ongoing investigation, but he would not provide additional details. "Any details that would be released to the public would not be available for some time," he said.
An employee who was present during the raid told the Knoxville News Sentinel it was an orderly but swift effort by federal agents to verify staffers' identities and job titles, and to separate those who are necessary to the day-to-day business operations.
"They came in pretty quick -- it wasn't a calm event," said the employee, who asked to not be identified. "I was at my desk, and I heard some voices say they were there to execute a search and seizure warrant."
Company personnel were told to turn off their computers, cell phones and other electronic devices immediately as agents sequestered and processed approximately 200 employees among three office buildings on the corporate campus, the newspaper reported.
The swift actions by government officials suggest suspicion that the targets of the investigation knew they were doing something that was illegal or close to it, according to NBC Sports. Overall, the decision to go in and seize evidence implies that authorities were able to persuade a judge that probable cause exists to believe that one or more crimes have been committed, the news outlet added.
For now, the travel center company said it expects it to be business as usual at its corporate offices.
"Pilot Flying J team members are expected to report to work at the company's Knoxville headquarters on Tuesday, April 16 as usual," Pilot Flying J wrote on its website. "The message they will receive from CEO Jimmy Haslam will be 'stay focused and do your job' supporting the companies' 500 travel centers and Pilot Logistics Services customers."
Haslam, who is also majority owner of the National Football League's Cleveland Browns franchise, issued a statement explaining that Pilot Flying J is cooperating with authorities. "The FBI secured our headquarters today and informed us they are investigating Pilot Flying J," he wrote on the company's website Monday night. "We will cooperate appropriately with any and all external investigations and conduct our own. I believe and trust there has been no wrongdoing. The integrity of our company always has been job No. 1."
Haslam briefly stepped away from the family-run business in September after purchasing the football team. At the time, his father, Jim Haslam, who founded Pilot Flying J in 1958, took the title of founder and chairman emeritus, and the company brought in John Compton, former PepsiCo president, to take the reins as CEO. However, these changes only lasted six months.
Jimmy Haslam once again took the lead at Pilot Flying J in February and Compton became a strategic advisor to Pilot Flying J, the Browns and the Haslam family.
Jimmy Haslam's brother is Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. He does not hold a position with Pilot Flying J, but still has an unspecified holding in the company.
Pilot Flying J operates more than 650 retail locations and is the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in North America.