Federal court overturns guilty verdicts against former Pilot Flying J execs

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A federal court has overturned the guilty verdicts against three former Pilot Flying J executives, including the one-time president of the truck-stop chain, in the case surrounding the company’s fuel rebate scandal.

The decision is the latest turn in the fuel rebate scandal involving Knoxville-based Pilot Company, formerly known as Pilot Flying J, that has been ongoing for several years; beginning in 2013, with raids on the company headquarters.

Mark Hazelwood, Heather Jones and Scott Wombold were convicted on fraud charges back in 2018 and 2019 after months of trial. The judge overseeing that trial allowed prosecutors to play audio recordings that documented Hazelwood using racist language.

The defense pushed back at the time. Now, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is saying the recording should not have been allowed into the trial.

The federal court described the recordings as “vintage bad character evidence,” which is forbidden by federal rules. One member of the three-judge panel disagreed. Still, the decision sends the case back to the lower court. Currently, it is unknown if a re-trial will occur.

The Pilot Company was accused of cheating trucking firms out of discounts on large fuel buys. Pilot agreed to settlement fines and penalty payouts of nearly $200 million.

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