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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Several former Pilot Flying J executives were denied their request of a change of venue to a location outside the company’s hometown of Knoxville in an ongoing court case alleging fraud in the company’s fuel rebate program.
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, U.S. District Judge Amal Thapar ruled that federal prosecutors and attorneys for the former leaders of the truck stop chain would work together to create a questionnaire to send to 120 potential jurors in the Knoxville area in order to gauge their familiarity with the case.
"That way...the court and the parties will have actual evidence and sufficient information to determine whether a change in division or district is appropriate for trial," reads the order from Thapar.
As CSNews Online reported in September, attorneys for Mark Hazelwood, former president; Scott Wombold and John Freeman, former vice presidents; and other ex-employees asked a federal judge for permission to file a lengthy request to change the location of their trial. This case dates back to 2013, when Pilot Flying J’s Knoxville headquarters were raided.
Requests to change trial locations are typically made when defendants believe jurors have been overly exposed to details of the case. The filing in September said "pretrial publicity in this case has been extensive," noting there have been "hundreds of pretrial newspaper and television media reports" about the case.
Pilot Flying J has already paid more than $170 million in settlements, fees and fines in connection with allegations top executives orchestrated a scheme where rebates were offered but never paid to Pilot customers, the news outlet explained.
All of the defendants have pleaded not guilty in the case. An additional 10 employees have pleaded guilty to mail fraud and wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.
CEO Jimmy Haslam has denied any knowledge of the rebate scheme. He is not referenced in any of the filings in this case.
Pilot Flying J already reached an $85-million civil settlement with dozens of trucking companies. The retailer also agreed to cooperate with the ongoing criminal investigation and pay a $92-million penalty.
Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J operates more than 650 travel stops in North America.