Many former Pilot Flying J employees have already entered guilty pleas. More are currently on trial with the testimony and evidence provided by the first batch. The one thing we didn’t know was if the finger-pointing would end up directed at Pilot Flying J chief and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. The first clue that maybe, just maybe, things weren’t going to go well for the bungling Browns owner is when he and Warren Buffett announced that Jimmy was selling his family’s business in early October ahead of the start of the trial. It stands to reason that a big, powerful business owner who is extending the legacy of his family business from the second generation on into the future wouldn’t have “selling out” on the top of the list of priorities unless there was some other intervening reason. On November 28 in a Tennessee courtroom, nearly two months after the Buffett acquisition announcement, we might finally have the real evidence that Jimmy Haslam has some legal issues ahead that caused him to sell his business to Warren Buffett.
Jamie Satterfield of the Knoxville News Sentinel was there in the courtroom when secret audio was played that included the voice of Jimmy Haslam. Satterfield reports that Haslam’s voice was heard at a training session in which fraud was being taught to sales employees. Jimmy reportedly joked with other Pilot executives about a time when Pilot Flying J got caught cheating a customer and made up for it by purchasing that company’s dilapidated old plane for $1 million.
After Haslam’s joke, another Pilot Flying J employee makes references to “manuel,” which is allegedly the short-hand term that they would use to describe “manual” rebates. And by manual, they mean they manually changed them to screw customers out of the discounts and rebates that they had been promised. Manuel was also a term that was reportedly used because Pilot Flying J employees especially loved to use these tactics on Hispanic companies and less sophisticated customers.
In today’s tapes, the person calling them “Manuel” was former Pilot Flying J President Mark Hazelwood. The new tape revelation from court likely proves that term was used more widely in Pilot’s sales culture. When this was reported back in 2013, it was attributed to a sales director Kevin Hanscomb.
The nicknames for the alleged manual rebate fraud scheme also include variations of “Manual” to become a Hispanic name pronounced “Manuel” or “Manwell.”
The transcripts quote Pilot’s director of sales for the east region, Kevin Hanscomb, as saying, “They’re not stupid, there is a language barrier. So you can get away with a little bit more because they know that they are not going to understand everything that you say.”
The transcript continues with quotes from Hanscomb that say Hispanic owners in South Florida would allow some “forgiveness” and believe they may have misunderstood rather than conclude the salesperson was involved in fraud.
Here’s Jamie Satterfield describing the courtroom scene in her own words.
This can’t be good news for Jimmy Haslam who has proclaimed that he never knew anything about the fraudulent rebate scam that has so many employees pleading guilty and for which Pilot Flying J has already paid massive fines and restitution. Haslam hasn’t been charged with any crimes yet, but the word “yet” feels more solid than it’s ever felt.
There’s just no telling where this could end for Jimmy Haslam and what it could eventually mean for the Cleveland Browns. It can’t be good for Haslam’s overall focus on the worst team in professional football that’s enduring one of the worst streaks in the history of professional sports.