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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The former president of the nation’s largest fuel retailer has been given a delay in sentencing for his conviction in a scheme to defraud trucking companies.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports an August sentencing hearing for former Pilot Flying J President Mark Hazelwood was rescheduled for September 26, allowing lawyers to examine audit reports that will form the basis of the penalty range he faces for scheming to lure truckers to do business with the truck stop giant by promising discounts and then shorting them.
The amount stolen by a person factors into penalty ranges.
Hazelwood had fired his defense team and requested the delay. A judge wrote the court wouldn’t have permitted the change if it knew his present counsel wouldn’t be prepared for August sentencing.
Hazelwood fired renowned criminal defense attorney Rusty Hardin after being convicted earlier this year in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and tampering with a witness.
Hazelwood was the highest-ranking member of Pilot Flying J who was convicted in a five-year plot that bilked trucking companies out of more than $56.5 million. Two subordinates were convicted of varying crimes alongside him, and 14 others pleaded guilty. Two were granted immunity. Pilot Flying J’s board also admitted criminal responsibility.
Hazelwood’s new defense team argued in filings earlier this month that Hazelwood’s former bosses — Pilot Flying J’s board of directors — threw money at any trucking customer that claimed fraud when news of an April 2013 raid at the company’s Knoxville headquarters broke.
That means, his attorneys argued, the roughly $23 million in fraud an audit attributed to Hazelwood is inflated.
Hazelwood was earning $26.9 million at the height of the fraud plot – double his pay when the scheme began in earnest. Even after his indictment in 2016, Hazelwood continued to make money from the trucking industry.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Trey Hamilton countered that even after reducing the fraud figures to account for those complaints, he and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Lewen could have mounted a case that Hazelwood is responsible for more than $21 million of the fraud loss.
Pilot Flying J is controlled by the family of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. The Haslams haven’t been charged with wrongdoing.