As Haslam eyes U.S. Senate bid, state Democrats strike on Pilot legal woes

As Haslam eyes U.S. Senate bid, state Democrats strike on Pilot legal woes

September 29th, 2017 by Andy Sher in Breaking News

In this Sept. 5, 2017, photo, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam speaks to reporters in Brentwood, Tenn. The Republican told reporters on Thursday, Sept. 28 that he is considering entering the race to succeed Republican Bob Corker in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - As Gov. Bill Haslam considers running for U.S. Senate, state Democrats say the Republican governor's unknown stake in the Haslam family-owned Pilot Flying J as well as the company's federal fraud woes truck- diesel sales will be an issue.

Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini said this morning that Pilot Flying J, the nation's largest truck stop company, "has been embroiled in a fraud scandal since 2013 that has resulted in 10 indictments and $170 million in fines. 

"To this day, Gov. Haslam has not had to answer for these crimes, but he has likely profited from them as he still holds an undisclosed stake in the company. Nobody knows how much he owns or has profited because his very first executive order eliminated requirements for the governor and top aides to disclose how much they earn in outside income."

Mancini warned that "if the Governor decides to run for US Senate, we expect there will be considerably more scrutiny of his finances and his family's business practices."

The governor told reporters Thursday that he is considering running for Senate following this week's announced by incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga that he would not seek a third term.

Tennessee Democrats' shot across Haslam's bow is the second one in as many days as Haslam weighs a bid to succeed U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. 

On Wednesday, the hard-right Breitbart News, helmed by President Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon, launched a broadside on its website at the governor over his response to comments by his older brother and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam's stance on President Donald Trump's criticism of NFL players who are kneeling in protest instead of standing for the national anthem at games.

Jimmy Haslam is also CEO of Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J.

Fourteen ex-Pilot employees have pleaded guilty in the 4 1/2 years since a federal probe into the alleged defrauding of trucking companies erupted into public view when FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents raided the company's Knoxville headquarters in 2013.

Federal indictments accuse company officials of conspiring to withhold millions of dollars in negotiated rebates with trucking companies by providing the firms with fraudulent statements.

Neither the governor nor his brother, Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam, have been charged.

The trial of four remaining Pilot Flying J defendants is scheduled to begin later this month in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga. 

During his first 2010 campaign, Haslam departed from a long-standing Tennessee tradition and declined to provide copies of his income tax returns to news organizations. Forbes has estimated his net worth at $2 billion, much of it deriving from the privately held Pilot Flying J.

Upon taking office in January 2011, Haslam's first executive order was to reverse a previous order from former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat and multi-millionaire himself, that required the governor and top aides to disclose how much they earn in outside income.

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Haslam and his brother had been charged. They have not been charged.