By Walter F. Roche Jr. for The Tennessean
Attorneys for Pilot Flying J and trucking companies that claim to be victims of a rebate skimming scam by the national truck-stop firm are seeking to have nearly a dozen cases consolidated in a single court in Cleveland; Jackson, Miss.; or Nashville.
The motions for consolidation of 11 active civil suits filed in federal courts across the country were filed recently even as a criminal probe of Pilot continues.
The federal probe has already netted guilty pleas from five Pilot sales employees. The guilty pleas came after an April 15 raid on Pilot's Knoxville headquarters and the subsequent public filing of a 122-page affidavit and FBI agent detailing a widespread scheme to secretly cut promised rebates to trucking firms the sales executives didn't think would notice.
In a suit pending in Florida, Charles Beal, the attorney for Pilot, noted that all the suits contain "near exact reproductions of the same allegations." "Pilot agrees that transfer and consolidation is appropriate," the motion states, adding that such an action would "avoid duplicative proceedings."
Pilot's lawyers have asked that the individual pending cases be put on hold until a special judicial panel meets on July 25 to consider the various consolidation motions.
The motion notes that all the suits are based on the FBI affidavit which includes partial transcripts of secretly taped meetings of Pilot executives in which they discussed the scheme to reduce the rebates. Asked to comment on the consolidation motion, Pilot spokesman Tom Ingram said in an email, "As we have said from the beginning, civil suits are expected in matters like this; we will defend them appropriately; any current activity related to the suits is part of that defense."
Pilot CEO James A. Haslam has denied any knowledge of the rebate skimming scheme and has vowed to reimburse truckers with interest for any losses they sustained.
In a suit filed in Ohio, lawyers for Ohio Auto Delivery cited the similarity of the claims in all the cases and argued that consolidation "will promote the just and efficient conduct of the actions, as well as further the convenience of the parties and witnesses, by eliminating duplicative discovery and the potential for inconsistent rulings."
One suit was filed against Pilot in U.S. District Court in Nashville. The suit was filed on behalf of Paul Otto, a Nebraska trucker who has charged that he was one of the victims of the rebate scheme. The consolidation motion does not immediately affect suits filed in state courts, including one filed in circuit court in Knoxville by a Georgia trucking firm.
One suit against Pilot filed in federal court in Alabama by Charles E. Winborn and W.T.W. Enterprises was voluntarily dismissed early this month .