Pilot Trial To Go To Jury In Chattanooga On Wednesday Afternoon; Attorney Questions Why Jury Did Not Hear From Haslam, Freeman, Greco

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Charges against four former employees of Pilot Travel Centers for defrauding trucking companies will go to a Chattanooga jury on Wednesday afternoon in a trial that began in early November.

Former president Mark Hazelwood, former national sales director Scott Wombold, and sales accountants Heather Jones and Karen Mann face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted of the mail and wire fraud charges.

A host of other Pilot employees pleaded guilty and face up to five years at sentencing.

Prosecutor Trey Hamilton will deliver his final argument on Wednesday morning, then Judge Curtis Collier will give the charge.

Judge Collier told jurors they will have plenty of time to deliberate. Court is not due to be in session on Thursday or Friday, so they apparently would return on Monday to continue talks if they do not reach verdicts on the multiple counts on Wednesday.

Attorney Rusty Hardin blasted prosecutors in his final argument, saying they had failed to call a number of witnesses, including Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam.

He also said certain individuals "got a pass" while others were prosecuted. Haslam, owner of the NFL Cleveland Browns, denies any knowledge of the wide-spread fraud. J.W. Johnson, identified in the trial as a Jimmy Haslam son-in-law, also was not charged, attorney Hardin noted. 

Johnson's name came into play when he accidentally told the owner of a trucking firm the amount he was suppose to be getting in rebates, but had been paid much less.

Attorney Hardin, a Baylor School graduate who was a prosecutor in Houston before starting his own legal defense firm about 20 years ago, told the jury to note "who's here and who's not here."

He said the jury never got to hear from such key Pilot personnel as John Freeman, a top sales manager whose name was often invoked, and Vince Greco, another sales director who began working with the government and wearing a mic.

Attorney Hardin said of Hazelwood, "There is no evidence that he ever engaged in fraud or was aware that it was going on."

He said the government was willing to give one of the fraud masterminds, Brian Mosher, a deal while going after Hazelwood, who was paid over $27 million his last year at Pilot.

The attorney said the government also went after an account representative "who was fighting cancer.," saying that was "just wrong."

He said the case should have been in civil court, not criminal.



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