Cleveland.com on May 29, 2013 released the following:
By John Caniglia, The Plain Dealer
“Two Pilot Flying J sales executives pleaded guilty today to federal charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud for their role in sending fraudulent rebate checks “to certain targeted Pilot customers,” the charges said.
Arnold Ralenkotter, a regional sales director in Hebron, Ky., and Ashley Judd, an account executive in Knoxville, entered their pleas in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Tenn. No dates have been set for their sentencing.
They became the first people charged in the two-year investigation of Pilot Flying, the company owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.
The charges said the primary purpose of the conspiracy was to increase the commissions of Pilot’s direct sales staff and increase the company’s profits. Ralenkotter’s home was one of several sites searched by federal agents in April. The main sites of the raid took place at Pilot Flying J’s main offices.
Haslam has said he had no knowledge of the scheme, which is contradicted by a FBI affidavit used to obtain a judge’s permission to search Pilot Flying J, Ralenkotter’s home and other sites.
The charges say that Pilot Flying J had a mandatory sales meeting in Knoxville in November. Ralenkotter attended a breakout session in which a top Pilot sales official “encouraged and taught Pilot direct sales personnel how to defraud, without detection, some of Pilot’s customers who chose to receive their discounts in the form of a rebate check.”
The charges said Ralenkotter told a subordinate that if he wasn’t willing to reduce a customer’s rebate, then Ralenkotter would take the customer’s account over. Ralenkotter’s attorney said his client is cooperating with authorities in the investigation.
In March, Judd told an employee of Pilot Flying J who was cooperating with investigators that she kept a file in her desk drawer related to the rebate reductions. Judd told the informant that “if anyone ever came in the office that that file would be the first one that Judd would burn,” according to the FBI affidavit. Her attorney could not be reached.
The company declined to comment.
It was last month when FBI and IRS agents raided the company’s headquarters in Knoxville.
In an affidavit, an FBI agent said some sales employees withheld fuel price rebates and discounts from certain companies to boost the company’s profits and their commissions. The document also says Haslam knew about the scheme, as he had been in sales meetings where the scheme was discussed.
But Haslam on May 16 told hundreds of trucking company officials in Indianapolis that he was “absolutely not aware of” the scheme.
Until today, no one had been charged in the investigation.
But several civil lawsuits have piggybacked on the FBI affidavit.
A spokesman for Haslam has said that class-action lawsuits are predictable in cases where allegations of wrongdoing take place, and he said the company will defend the cases appropriately.”
Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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