Ever since the news got out that the FBI had raided the Pilot Flying J headquarters in Knoxville, TN last week, rumors and wild speculation abounded, with everyone trying to figure out why the FBI took action. Now that the FBI have released the affidavit that they used to obtain their search warrants we have our answer: the information in the affidavit suggests that Pilot Flying J may have stolen tens of millions of dollars from trucking companies… and that the owner, Jimmy Haslam, may have known that it was happening.
The FBI gathered most of the information contained within the affidavit through the use of two confidential informants, both of whom were working in the Pilot Flying J Corporate Offices. They both wore hidden audio recording devices and recorded conversations with other PFJ employees, mostly within the diesel sales department.
According to the affidavit, the sales team would withhold rebate money from trucking companies without their knowledge in order to increase the amount that the companies were paying and increase their own sales commission. While this may not sound worthy of a raid by the FBI, the largest rebates are usually given to companies with the most volume. This may have translated into a loss of over a million dollars a year for some companies and a lot of extra commissions for the sales reps.
Company owner Jimmy Haslam has given several press conferences since the FBI raid. In one of the most recent he said he was extremely embarrassed and disappointed saying: “That’s not how we do things around here. We have respect for people. We have the utmost respect for our customers.”
In a recorded conversation, the Vice President of Sales shared his mantra for how to deal with the customers they have so much respect for: “F— ‘em early and f— ‘em often.”
Another conversation revealed that a different employee was of the opinion that if a customer “isn’t smart enough to know what their deal is” then there was no reason to give the customer the money that they were owed.
It also appears that these were not the actions of just a few rogue employees. This frame of mind was preached by PFJ Director of National Sales. When talking with a few of his employees, he was caught saying the following on tape: “Know your customer… If the guy’s sophisticated… don’t jack with his discounts, ’cause he’s gonna know, okay?”
Another recorded conversation revealed two other PFJ employees openly discussing their customers.
MALE VOICE: Our advantage is their ignorance
PFJ Employee: Yeah, AKA, we’re f—in’ ’em. (Laughter.)
One of the most shocking assertions made by the affidavit is that many top executives – including Jimmy Haslam himself – were aware of what the FBI is calling “Discount Fraud.” Here’s a piece of the transcript taken directly from the affidavit. One of the confidential informants is talking with the Vice President of Sales about what to do if a company catches on:
Confidential Informant: Well what if you can’t talk your way out of it? They figure out a way and they’ve got you nailed?
VP: You pay up.
Confidential Informant: Pay it?
VP: Yeah. Or you buy an airplane.
Confidential Informant: What does Mark and Jimmy say about shit like that? Do they even catch it or do they know?
VP: Fuckin’ A. I mean, I called Jimmy and told him I got busted at Western Express.
Confidential Informant: What’d he say?
VP: Oh he knew it.
Confidential Informant: Oh did he?
VP: Absolutely. I mean, he knew all along that I was cost-plussin’ this guy. He knew it all along. Loved it. We were makin’ $450,000 a month on him–
Confidential Informant: Holy s—t!
VP: — why wouldn’t he love it?
Confidential Informant: Yeah.
VP: Did it for five years, cost us a million bucks. I mean, we made $6 million on the guy, cost us a million bucks.
It is also reported that Haslam received several reports sent by email that would have shown the fraud in practice. This is in addition to an email reportedly sent by an employee on January 24th, 2013 that “Jimmy Haslam and John Freeman were looking carefully at every Customer’s profit and loss report and consolidating duplicate entries. [The confidential informant] stated that the increased profit from Rebate Fraud would be clearly evident to Jimmy Haslam and John Freeman.”
Despite the evidence collected in the affidavit, Jimmy Haslam denies any wrongdoing. He said on Thursday: “I maintain that the foundation of this company is built on its integrity and that any willful wrongdoing by any employee of this company at any time is intolerable.”
Pilot Flying J has put several members of the sales team on administrative leave and has been taking steps to repay those companies that have claimed that they are owed money. Given that trucking companies are starting to come forward to file class action lawsuits, however, this debacle may be far from over.