In the Case of Pilot Flying J: Keep Your Eye on John Freeman



On Tuesday, three more Pilot Flying J employees pled guilty to various charges related to Pilot's infamous rebate program. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports:

That brings the total to five who have admitted their roles in the scheme that became public with a massive raid on Pilot’s West Knoxville headquarters in April.

Holly Radford, who worked as a regional account representative at Pilot headquarters in Knoxville, admitted by agreement to one count of mail fraud in U.S. Court.

Earlier this afternoon, co-worker Jay Stinnett entered a similar plea.

This morning, Kevin Clark admitted to one count of mail fraud.

So let's just recap — Radford, Stinnett, and Clark pled guilty this week. Arnie Ralenkotter and Ashley Judd (no, not that one) pled guilty in May. We know Cathy Geisick is cooperating with the Feds, as is a confidential informant widely believed to be Vincent Greco. (That's because the affidavit says this about Confidential Human Informant 2: "CHS-2 explained that Freeman had just directed one of the employees whom CHS-2 supervises, Kevin Clark, to engage in fraudulent activity with a Customer during the week of September 24, 2012." It then says this of Kevin Clark: "He is supervised by Regional Sales Director Vincent Greco.")

Pilot is notoriously tight-lipped about how its business is structured, but I wondered if we could tell from who's rolled who the Feds might be gunning for. So I mapped out who works under whom as best I could, using the information in the affidavit. Here's what I discovered.

1. None of this is as far removed from Jimmy Haslam as I bet he'd like. He supervises Mark Hazelwood, who's the president. Hazelwood is over Scott Wombold and John Freeman (the Pilot VP of sales who had to buy a plane to appease Western Express). Two, maybe three, of the guys who report directly to Freeman — Ralenkotter, Greco, and possibly Stinnett — have now cut a deal with the Feds.

2. If I were Freeman, I'd be sweating bullets. Not only does he have that little airplane problem, but five of the deal-cutters are under him: the aforementioned Ralenkotter, Greco and Stinnett, plus Kevin Clark, who worked under Greco and who pled guilty on Tuesday, and Cathy Geisick, a former Pilot employee who used to work under Greco and who has been cooperating with the Feds for a long time.

3. It appears the other person who should be especially nervous is Vickie Bordon, whom the affidavit lists as "Director of Inside Sales." She supervised the regional account representatives, who appear to be the people who actually entered the fraudulent data into Pilot's systems. Two of the people under her — Ashley Judd and Holly Radford — have now cut a deal.

4. As the affidavit explains it, Borden's people worked closely with Freeman's people, so it's not surprising to see people from both areas directly implicated in this. But it does mean that, organizationally, this scandal spreads farther than Freeman and his people. Borden appears to report to another vice president — Scott Wombold. Would she have kept what her people were doing for Freeman and his people from Wombold?

Judging from all this, Freeman must be the big obvious fish the Feds are going after. His people and the people from Borden's office are the ones cutting deals and pleading guilty. But this also makes Freeman the one to keep an eye on. We know, just from the affidavit, that Freeman asserted that Haslam knew all about the manual rebate program and, in fact, joked with him about him having to buy an airplane. If we see a further flurry of pleas from people with titles like "Director of Sales" and "Regional Sales Manager," I think we can guess that the Feds are building a tight case against Freeman, since those are the titles people under him have.

If we see a plea from Freeman, though? Well, the only bigger fish Freeman can give the Feds are Hazelwood and/or Haslam.

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