NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The truck-stop company owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has agreed to pay back the trucking companies that were cheated out of fuel rebates, according to a settlement given preliminary approval Tuesday.
Under the agreement approved by a federal judge in Arkansas, Pilot Flying J would pay the companies what they are owed with interest.
Federal agents raided the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J earlier this year after an employee claimed the nation's largest diesel retailer was systematically cheating its clients. Five employees have since pleaded guilty to federal charges.
Jimmy Halsam is the brother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who has an undisclosed ownership share in the company. Both have denied any wrongdoing, and the company didn't acknowledge wrongdoing in the settlement.
Under the terms of the preliminary settlement, Pilot Flying J would pay all legal fees and other expenses. That includes the cost of auditing the accounts and then auditing the auditors.
Pilot spokesman Tom Ingram said the company expects the total number of customers who are owed money will be a relatively small percentage of Pilot's more-than-4,000 customers. So far, 22 class-action lawsuits have been filed against Pilot Flying J, one of which was dismissed.
Eight of the suits are represented directly by Tuesday's settlement. All other companies that participated in either Pilot's rebate program or its discount program will be sent a notice informing them of the class-action settlement. If they choose to opt out of the settlement, they could still sue separately.
"The advantage to them, if they choose to accept this, is that they get all their money back. They pay no legal fees and no administrative fees," Pilot Flying J attorney Aubrey Harwell said. "It's in keeping with what Jimmy Haslam committed to all along. He said, 'We're going to do this right. They're going to be paid quickly and fairly.'"