Friday, July 17, 2015

Feds Seek in Secret Filings to Block Pilot Flying J Depositions

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

In a series of secret filings, federal prosecutors have asked a federal judge to block scheduled depositions of key figures in the investigation of rebate fraud allegations against Pilot Flying J, the national truck stop firm.
The request to block the depositions of five former Pilot employees was filed under seal in U.S. District Court in Kentucky and the presiding judge has threatened to initiate contempt charges against anyone who disseminates it and related materials to unauthorized persons.
The only public reference to the sealed filings came in a recent five-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar in which he also stated that responses to the government's request must also be filed under seal.
"If it (the sealed document) is disseminated in any portion, the court will initiate an investigation into who disseminated it and begin contempt proceedings."
The five former Pilot employees who have been subpoenaed for depositions include four who already have entered guilty pleas to mail or wire fraud charges.
They are Christopher Andrews, Brian Mosher, Arnold Ralenkotter and Janet Welch. They are all awaiting sentencing. The fifth former employee named in Thapar's order, Cathy Giesick, has not been charged but she is believed to be one of two informants whose disclosures to federal officials played a key role in the investigation.
The subpoenas were issued as part of a handful of remaining civil cases against Pilot filed by truckers who refused to share in an $82 million settlement from Pilot in a class action suit filed in Arkansas.
The two attorneys who filed the secret motions, Francis M. Hamilton 3rd and David P. Lewen Jr, are  the lead prosecutors in the criminal investigation of Pilot.
According to Thapar's ruling all of the depositions, including one which was scheduled for July 8, have been stayed temporarily while he considers whether to grant the government's overall request. He added that if he decides to deny the government's overall request, he will then order the five former employees to make themselves available "within the next few weeks."
Thapar's ruling and the secret filings are but the latest development in a lengthy federal probe into allegations that Pilot sales executives routinely and systematically cut the rebates promised to truckers.
The probe first became public on April 15, 2013 when FBI agents raided the trucking firm's Knoxville headquarters. The string of guilty pleas began shortly afterwards.
Pilot's top executive, James A. Haslam, has consistently denied any knowledge of the rebate scheme but he has been subpoenaed for a deposition later this month.
Haslam's lawyers have asked Thapar to overturn an order from a magistrate judge forcing the Cleveland Brown's owner to undergo questioning.

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