KNOXVILLE, Tennessee – The owner of the Cleveland Browns will pay millions of dollars to customers of his other business, Pilot Flying J.
On Tuesday, a settlement was reached in a class action lawsuit filed against the company and a federal judge in Arkansas approved the deal.
In April, federal agents raided the company headquarters amid an allegation that fuel rebates weren’t being paid in their entirety to customers of the national chain of truck stops.
The class action lawsuit was soon filed in federal court.
According to Aubrey Harwell, Jr., Haslam’s attorney, it will cost Pilot Flying J millions because they’re offering settlements and they’re covering legal fees and other expenses.
“If it’s a customer that’s got hundreds of trucks on the road and uses a great deal of fuel, it could be a significant number. If, on the other hand, it’s a smaller number, a half-dozen or a dozen trucks on the road, it could be a lesser amount,” said Harwell, during a phone conversation with FOX 8’s Mark Zinni.
Haslam has always denied any knowledge of the alleged rebate scam. The owner of the Browns even addressed it during a transportation seminar in Indianapolis in May.
“I take responsibility for what happens at PFJ as the guy at the top of the shop, but I was absolutely not aware of any of this and I think it’s important to state that and state that on record in front of our customers,” said Haslam while in Indiana.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Haslam said, “This is an unfortunate time for our customers and our company, but we remain committed to making things 100% right with our customers, to put systems in place to help ensure this does not happen again, and to re-earn our customers' trust.”
According to Haslam’s attorney, the offer is final for those who accept the settlement.
It does not have any effect on a separate federal investigation that continues into any possible criminal wrongdoing.
“He is very positive because he recognizes this is one more step in his commitment to the industry and to his customers that he’s gonna do the right thing and make sure that all the customers whose accounts have some potential discrepancy are paid in full,” said Harwell.
FOX 8 News has learned a grand jury in the criminal case could convene in August and, so far, Jimmy Haslam has not been asked to testify.
Pilot Flying J has already taken action against some workers who were placed on administrative leave; some resigned and others were terminated.
The following is the statement, released in its entirety, on Tuesday from Jimmy Haslam, the CEO of Pilot Flying J:
“Today in the United States District Court, Western Division of the Eastern District of Arkansas, our attorneys, working together with attorneys for eight of the companies that have filed class action lawsuits against Pilot Flying J, agreed to a plan to pay all customers who join the class 100% of the money they are owed, plus 6% interest, as soon as possible and without the need for unnecessary time in court, plaintiff legal fees or out of pocket costs. I commend all of these individuals for their hard work and dedication to ensuring our customers are paid back quickly and fairly for any potential discrepancies found in their accounts.
“Customers who already received checks with interest based on our internal field audit team’s ongoing review will receive supplemental checks for any additional interest not included in the original calculation. In addition, all of our customers, as defined by the court agreement, may join the class and have a free independent accountant, approved by the court, validate Pilot Flying J’s internal audit process of the customer’s account.
“In addition, Pilot Flying J will pay all court, administrative, accounting, mailing, processing and legal costs incurred as part of the procedure approved by the court today, ensuring our customers will get every dollar they are owed, with interest, without protracted legal battles, time delays or costly legal expenses.
“Under the court agreement, Pilot Flying J will distribute a statement to all of its customers and to the media as part of notice provision to ensure all of our customers have the opportunity to resolve any concerns they may have in this fashion. We also will make available to attorneys for the class a mailing of all of our customers.
“Customers who are satisfied with their accounts may continue with business as usual, and we assure them our utmost attention, 24-7, 365 days a year, serving them and their drivers. Customers who are concerned about their accounts may join the class by simply doing nothing. Their accounts will be audited free to the customer. Finally, customers have the right to opt out and pursue their own legal objectives at their own expense, which can be significant.
“This is an unfortunate time for our customers and our company, but we remain committed to making things 100% right with our customers, to put systems in place to help ensure this does not happen again, and to re-earn our customers trust.”
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