An attorney in the Pilot Travel Centers fraud case said Friday that some defendants have received death threats after the playing of a racist tape in court.
Attorney Cullen Wojcik said the issue "has exploded on social media" since Judge Curtis Collier allowed the jury at Federal Court in Chattanooga to hear portions of the secretly recorded tape. He said, "On Twitter there have been hundreds and hundreds of posts."
He said one poster declared, "They should all die."
Attorney Wojcik said two of those charged with defrauding trucking companies, Karen Mann and Heather Jones, were not at the Rockwood, Tn., lake house of former Pilot sales vice president John Freeman when the recording was made and have nothing to do with it.
However, two other defendants, Mark Hazelwood and Scott Wombold, were present when the David Allan Coe song "My Wife Ran Off With A N-----" was played during a late-night drinking session and when there were numerous raucous comments about it.
There were also taunts about blacks in Oakland and in Cleveland, where Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam owns the Browns football team. Also ridiculed were the rabid "Dawgs" fans of the Browns as well as a couple of Pilot board members. There were repeated chants of "Dawgs," Dawgs."
It was difficult to hear some of the recordings in court or to make out who was talking. Attorneys said on the transcripts some speakers are identified while others could not be made out.
Attorney Wojcik said attorneys are seeking a mistrial over the issue.
The comment came at an afternoon hearing on the request of several media outlets for transcripts of the recordings played in court as well as the recordings themselves.
The request is also for the unsealing of motions and court orders dealing with the issue.
Judge Collier has given attorneys seven days to state their positions on the request to unseal the motions and orders.
He said he would issue an order later on that issue and the request for the transcript and recordings.
Attorneys said the transcripts were not entered as evidence, but just as aids to the jurors.
Attorney Rick Hollow of Knoxville, representing the media outlets, made a lengthy presentation about the rights of the media to public documents in a timely fashion.
Attorney Rusty Hardin said if the documents are released, it should not be until the trial is over, which could be in March.
He said release of the documents would increase the chance that comments and furor about them would reach the jurors, who are allowed to go home each night but are instructed not to read or watch anything about the case.
Attorney Hollow said jurors have consistently said they have not had anyone try to talk to them about the case.
Judge Collier allowed the tape after the Hazelwood defense portrayed him as an excellent company president. He said it was evidence to refute that portrayal in that Hazelwood risked that word of the conduct at the sales meeting would get out to the public and to Pilot customers.
Judge Collier, who is black as is one alternate on the jury, clarified that earlier he had not expressed any opinion on the content of the tapes, but quoted some of the remarks of attorneys in motions that had been filed. That included attorneys characterizing the content of the tapes as "vile" and "beyond the pale."
Darren Seay, a top Pilot accountant, said soon after the April 15, 2013, FBI raid of the Knoxville headquarters that a thorough audit began to determine which trucking companies had been cheated and how much.
The total amount was over $56 million.
BP Express was defrauded of $218,463 in rebates it was promised, but not paid. The Loss to JTL Carriers was $119,222 and to another trucking line was $131,188.
Ryder Truck Rental was shorted $82,236 and Queen Transportation wound up being owed and paid $60,656.
Mr. Seay said the job was so large that accountants from Nashville and Knoxville were brought in to help in the examination of all customer accounts.