CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.-- The ex-president of Pilot Flying J was recorded making “vile, despicable, inflammatory racial epithets” that disparaged “the entire population of Cleveland, Ohio," U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier said Thursday, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Mark Hazelwood and some sales executives also reportedly made racially offensive and disparaging comments about the Cleveland Browns, as well.
Judge Collier said he would let jurors in the case against Hazelwood and three other ex-employees hear the recordings.
A Pilot Flying J spokesperson released the following statement to FOX 8 News:
“The tapes described in court today, recorded over five years ago and involving former sales representatives of Pilot Flying J, are saddening and troubling. This kind of behavior is not acceptable, tolerated or reflective of the values of the company. No current team member of Pilot Flying J was present or participated in these conversations.”
Judge Collier set a month-long break in the fraud trial of former executives and sales representatives at the truck stop chain controlled by the family of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. After Thursday's proceedings, the trial was put on hold until Jan. 8.
Jimmy Haslam, the CEO of Pilot Flying J, has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has said he had no prior knowledge of the fraud scheme before federal agents raided on the company's headquarters in 2013.
Fourteen members of the Pilot sales department have pleaded guilty, and the company has paid an $85 million settlement to scammed customers and a $92 million penalty to the government.