The young, aggressive prosecutors who are investigating the company run by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam previously had been quiet. On Wednesday, they broke their silence in a big way.
According to John Caniglia of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a pair of Pilot Flying J sales executives have pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with the alleged customer fraud scheme.
The guilty pleas officially mean that the scam no longer is “alleged”; the question is whether and to what extent others will be prosecuted.
Per Caniglia, Arnold Ralenkotter and Ashley Judd (not that one) pleaded guilty in Knoxville on Wednesday to “conspiracy to commit mail fraud” in connection with sending fraudulent rebate checks “to certain targeted Pilot customers.”
Ralenkotter was a regional sales director, and Judd was an account executive.
Here’s the tidbit that should make Haslam and other key Pilot Flying J employees lose sleep indefinitely: Ralenkotter’s lawyer reportedly said “his client is cooperating with authorities in the investigation.”
It’s possible, if not likely, that Ralenkotter and Judd struck deals to plead guilty and cooperate, in exchange for some degree of leniency. While Haslam has denied involvement in or knowledge of the rebate fraud scam, Ralenkotter, Judd, and others may testify differently; already, at least one Pilot Flying J employee has said while being secretly recorded that Haslam was aware of the rebate fraud scam.
Regardless of whether the prosecution makes its way all the way to Haslam, it’s safe to say that the prosecutors will swim as far upstream as the evidence harvested from folks who plead guilty will take them.