Pilot Flying J employees seem to be learning: if you want to cooperate with the government's case, do it sooner rather than later.
At least that's what it looks like to Cleveland attorney Richard Lillie now that five Pilot employees have entered guilty pleas.
"We used to refer to it as the first kid to get to mom," said Lillie. "That still seems to be the way it is. If you get in early you're going to benefit from that."
Tuesday Regional Sales Manager Jay Stinnett, Regional Account Representative Holly Radford and Regional Sales Manager Kevin Clark all entered guilty pleas in federal court in Knoxville.
Regional Sales Director Arnold Ralenkotter and Regional Account Representative Ashley Judd did so last month, all admitting their guilt in a scheme to cheat trucking companies out of promised rebates.
Cleveland attorney Richard Lillie says it's the only way to save yourself in a case like this.
Will there be more people pleading out? "I think there will be more. I don't know how many more, but I'm sure there will be more in the near future," said Lillie. "I suspect that the US Attorney's goal is to keep trying to work his or her way up the chain."
Could that chain go all the way to Jimmy Haslam? His attorney, like Haslam himself, says no.
"If there was somebody in here, like the Chief Financial Officer [Mitch Steenrod], or somebody that was closer to Jimmy, sure that would create some concern and anxiety," said Aubrey Harwell, a Nashville attorney who represents Jimmy Haslam. "Wouldn't mean he did anything wrong, but these people are not at that level."
Channel 3's own investigation shows each of the five employees who have taken pleas fall within mid-level management, at least a few steps away from the CEO's desk.
"It's really hard to conclude that [Jimmy] should have known about it. It would have been nice if [he'd] known about it, but it's really a matter of numbers," said Harwell, explaining Pilot Flying J is a company of more than 23,000 employees.
"It is just unbelievably hurtful to him to see this happen to a company that ultimately his dad started and he's been operating," he said.
"I still think based upon what I've seen so far that there's no danger of this reaching Mr. Haslam's office," said Lillie while examining the released documents.
Some victims, like Curt Morehouse who runs an Omaha trucking company Morehouse Trucking, are waiting to hear certain names.
"I'm just waiting for the call when they say Brian Mosher is in prison. That's the call that I want. He was Kevin [Clark's] boss and our former sales rep," said Morehouse in an interview with our sister station WBIR.
Brian Mosher's name is mentioned extensively in the FBI affadavit. The Director of Sales for National Accounts' home was also raided for evidence.
"What do you say to people that say these five are the fall guys?" Sara Shookman asked Lillie. "I don't agree with that at all," he said. "They wouldn't be fall guys. The fact that they're cooperating would indicate that they've agreed to give the government any information that they have about the organization and as far up as it goes."