Jury In Pilot Trial Deliberates Over 3 Hours, Then Goes Home Until Monday; Prosecutor Says Hazelwood Fostered "Culture Of Fraud"

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The jury in the Pilot Travel Centers trial deliberated over three hours on Wednesday afternoon, then went home until again convening on Monday at 9 a.m. One juror had obligations for the next two days, Judge Curtis Collier said.

The sister of one of the defendants, Scott Wombold, died and her funeral is Monday. Judge Collier excused him from being in court on Monday.

His attorneys said Wombold will return Monday evening.

Attorneys were discussing what would happen if the jury returns verdicts on Monday with Wombold gone. One option was to have the jury deliver the other three verdicts and give the one on Wombold when he returns. Another was to wait until all defendants are present.

Earlier Tuesday, prosecutor Trey Hamilton told the Federal Court jury in Chattanooga that Mark Hazelwood fostered a "culture of fraud" at the Knoxville-based firm.

He said the former Pilot president should be convicted of all charges, along with former national sales director Wombold and sales accountants Heather Jones and Karen Mann.

The jury got the case after the charge from Judge Curtis Collier.

Prosecutor Hamilton played audio from a number of secret recordings as he laid out the case involving what he called "a $56 million fraud."

He said all the defendants were involved in the scheme to cheat trucking firms out of promised rebates.

One audio showed the sales staff laughing about successful tricking of "unsophisticated" trucking companies. Prosecutor Hamilton said, "It's a joke to them. How does that happen? That's caused by a culture from leadership - from fraudulent leadership."

He played a tape in which Hazelwood spoke about "Manuel." He said, "Manuel has done a hell of a job." The prosecutor said that referred to manual rebates, which was a process that made it easier to carry out the fraud.

Prosecutor Hamilton said Wombold was aware of the fraud, but never spoke up against it. He said Wombold was making over $1 million a year by 2012.

Ms. Jones was making $115,000 and Ms. Mann $119,000

Hazelwood was paid over $27 million his last year at Pilot.

As to why more witnesses were not called, including sales vice president John Freeman, he said the jury had "heard enough from him" on secretly recorded tapes.

He said more witnesses would have pushed the case on for more months. 

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