By Walter F. Roche Jr.
With a key mediation session approaching new charges and counter-charges are being exchanged in the remaining handful of civil court cases stemming from allegations of massive fuel rebate fraud by the nation's largest truck stop firm.
The new allegations before a federal judge in Kentucky include a claim that Pilot Flying J not only manipulated promised rebates but also defrauded truckers by manipulating the underlying price being paid for diesel fuel.
Pilot's lawyers have countered charging that four of the trucking firms are making new unfounded last minute charges after learning they were only owed $60,000 under the rebate claims.
The court filings come as all the parties have been called to a Friday mandatory mediation session by U.S. Judge Amul Thapar.
In a filing this week, attorneys for FST Express, Wright Transportation, HB Logistics and Dick Lavy Trucking charged that "there was far more to Pilot's fraud than meets the eye."
They charged that the fraud over the underlying cost of the fuel "dwarfs the rebate/discount fraud."
The cases are the only ones remaining after Pilot settled a class action suit in U.S. District Court in Arkansas last year. Pilot paid some $84 million to dozens of transportation firms in response to charges that the Knoxville firm secretly reduced promised rebates to trucker not sophisticated enough to notice.
In the brief filed by four firms that opted out of the settlement, they charged that the settlement enabled Pilot "to buy its way out of a multi-billion dollar fraud for pennies on the dollar."
The suits settled in Arkansas last November followed an FBI raid on Pilot's Knoxville headquarters and the filing of a 120-page affidavit by an FBI agent detailing the rebate shaving scheme.
Pilot also paid $92 million to the federal government in a civil settlement of the allegations.
In a ruling this week, Thapur denied a motion by Wright Transportation to amend its original complaint to include the cost fraud charges. The charges, however, remain for other plaintiffs.
Thapur also ruled that Pilot had not properly responded to some of the charges and gave the fuel firm only till Friday to respond.
Thapur wrote that Pilot's response "is not an acceptable response to the factual allegations."
Pilot, meanwhile, has denied allegations that it failed to respond to requests for documents and records and asked Thapur to deny a motion to extend the deadline for discovery.
"Any claim that Pilot's document production has been delayed and inadequate is simply not supported by the facts," the company brief states.