A witness in the Pilot Travel Centers fraud trial testified Thursday that former national sales director Scott Wombold told her that "if he was guilty of anything, it was sticking his head in the sand."
Lexie Holden told a jury at Federal Court in Chattanooga that the conversation took place after the FBI raided Pilot headquarters in Knoxville on April 15, 2013.
Wombold is on trial along with Mark Hazelwood, Heather Jones and Karen Mann.
Ms. Holden, who earlier pleaded guilty in the case as did many other Pilot employees, said she joined Pilot in 2008 just after graduating from UT Knoxville. She said she started as an administrative assistant and rose through the ranks to national account manager.
She said she was made aware of the ongoing cheating of trucking companies on promised discounts soon after joining the company.
The witness was asked about an email she sent in 2011 regarding a new employee, Kevin Hite, who had formerly worked for a trucking firm. She was inquiring if Hite should be told about the scheme, noting that he might still have some loyalty to his former industry.
She said a sales manager changed discounts on Hite's accounts to keep him from knowing what was going on.
She said she finally had a talk with Hite just before he was set to go on a plane trip with Hazelwood and John Freeman, another top Pilot sales leader at the time. She said she was afraid he would be asked about it on the trip and not know what was being said.
Ms. Holden said Hite told her he did know what was going on, but he just did not know the amounts customers were being cheated.
The witness said she helped Brian Mosher prepare for a lecture he gave at Pilot headquarters in November 2012 on how to cheat trucking companies.
Attorney Rusty Hardin was about to ask Ms. Holden more on that topic when the prosecution objected, saying it had not been a topic on direct examination.
Attorney Hardin then said he would have to call Ms. Holden as a defense witness later. He made the same statement when some of his questions to an FBI agent who is now stationed in Colorado were objected to.
The Houston attorney commented, "I guess we can try this thing in May."
The trial started in early November. Judge Curtis Collier said recently it may go into March at least.
The judge on Thursday dismissed a juror who has gotten a promotion to a position in Knoxville. Another juror dropped off earlier when she did not show up for court and it was learned she had gone on a pre-paid trip.
An FBI agent said it was his job to interview president Hazelwood on the day of the raid. He said Hazelwood was at the airport getting ready to board a plane, but he returned.
He said he willingly was interviewed by him for an hour or more.
The witness said he was "courteous and professional."
The agent said there were "way more" than 20 members of law enforcement poring through records at the Pilot headquarters and interviewing key personnel. He said many were armed and some had bullet-proof vests.
Asked about the mood, he said, "I would think it would be very different than a normal day at the office."
In a reference to the Pilot owners, he said, "I think everybody in Knoxville knows who the Haslams are."
Dan Peyton, a former Pilot salesman, said he learned that Smith Transportation had been cheated. He said he called Hazelwood about it.
He said Hazelwood told him the company would be repaid.