Lost in the draft and its aftermath have been the legal troubles of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. The family-owned truck-stop empire Haslam runs faces an ominous FBI and IRS probe into fraud against customers.
As the wheels of the criminal justice system grind slowly, several of the allegedly defrauded customers have pulled the rip cord on the civil justice system.
Pilot Flying J already faces multiple lawsuits, including several class actions. (Courts use class actions when numerous persons have suffered a sufficiently similar injury to allow the entire situation to be bundled into one case.) At least four class actions have been filed in recent days, and at least eight total lawsuits have been filed by customers who allegedly had rebates and discounts manipulated in a way that generated extra revenue for Haslam’s company.
The lawsuits flow from the 120-page affidavit that triggered a search warrant of the company’s headquarters. At least one employee of Pilot Flying J secretly recorded conversations and meetings regarding the alleged practice of preying on trucking companies deemed not sufficiently sophisticated to realize their pockets were being picked.
One trucking company recovered $146,000 from Pilot Flying J before the search warrant hit the fan. W.N. Morehouse Truck Line in Omaha, Nebraska spotted the discrepancy and pushed until Pilot Flying J rectified the situation. According to the Omaha World-Herald, one of the recorded conversations in the federal investigation specifically related to W.N. Morehouse’s failure to track the money owed via rebates.
“The trucking industry as a whole has a poor reputation for not being the smartest people, but I think we proved that not to be true because we caught them,” office manager Curt Morehouse said. “There’s probably some people [at Pilot] who think they’re sophisticated who don’t have a job today.”
There also may could be some people at Pilot who end up being sophisticated federal inmates.
In the interim, Haslam is trying to hold his business together. He has hired an independent outside investigator, whose independence necessarily is compromised by the fact that Pilot Flying J is paying the bill. Moreover, Pilot Flying J has launched a fairly transparent effort to keep customers by offering double points in its rewards program.
“Not only do we want to reward our loyal customers for their patronage, we want to demonstrate our industry-leading appreciation to the hardworking and inspiring drivers who keep this country moving,” Haslam said.
The fact that Haslam didn’t call the move what it is — a desperate P.R. ploy launched after the company apparently was caught with its hand pressed against the bottom of the proverbial cookie jar — suggests that Pilot Flying J continues to underestimate its customers. Allegedly.