Judge OKs $84.9M payout in truck stop scandal

Published on NewsOK Modified: November 25, 2013 at 5:09 pm •  Published: November 25, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal judge in Arkansas approved a settlement Monday that pays $84.9 million to 5,500 trucking companies that were cheated out of promised rebates by Pilot Flying J, the nation's largest diesel retailer.

The settlement doesn't put to rest a federal investigation in which seven company employees have already entered guilty pleas.

Attorney Aubrey Harwell Jr. of Nashville said Jimmy Haslam, owner of the Cleveland Browns and CEO of the truck stop chain, had no knowledge that employees were cheating customers. The company is co-owned by Haslam's brother, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who has said he isn't involved with Pilot Flying J's operations.

U.S. District Judge James Moody said Monday that he was satisfied that the settlement was fair, reasonable and equitable.

"I don't have any reservation about giving final approval here," Moody said at the end of an hourlong hearing in Little Rock.

Moody also approved $14 million in fees that will go to the truckers' lawyers.

The settlement reimburses trucking firms for their losses, plus 6 percent interest, which is calculated from the time each rebate should have been paid. The cheating dates back to 2005.

Lawyers on both sides stressed that no one among the 5,500 companies agreeing to the settlement filed an objection and that only about 1 percent of affected companies opted out of the agreement so they could file their own lawsuits.

Don Barrett, an attorney for the truckers, said the settlement makes his clients whole.

"What Pilot was required to do was done well and ... honorably," Barrett said.

He said many clients received their money before the settlement was approved.

"They're already paying it out. They've paid out most of it already" Barrett said.

Barrett praised Jimmy Haslam for opening the accounts in question to auditors and striving to make trucking companies whole.

"We couldn't have had this result in this short amount of time had not Mr. (Jimmy) Haslam stepped up to the plate, said he was going to do the right thing and in an honorable way and he did it. ... That's the comment of the 5,800 truckers that I represent," Barrett said.

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