Gov. Haslam knows no reason for FBI's Pilot search - WSMV Channel 4

Gov. Haslam knows no reason for FBI's Pilot search

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV-AP) -

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he still doesn't know why federal agents searched the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J, the family-owned chain of truck stops run by his brother, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.
  
The Republican governor made an impromptu visit to the press suite in the legislative office complex to discuss the raid, a day after the FBI and Internal Revenue Service shut down the Pilot offices.
  
"There's a lot of gossip and suspicion about what happened, and the truth is, nobody knows," Haslam said. "And I don't know either."
  
Haslam said he had spoken with his brother but didn't have any further details on which records the agents were searching for.

Jimmy Haslam said Tuesday he believes a small number of truck companies or individuals believe they were short-changed rebates owed to them by Pilot.

"The rebates owed to the customers were not paid - and we, of course, disagree with that," he said.

The governor said Jimmy Haslam stressed "they are going to cooperate fully, and that he firmly believes they haven't done anything wrong, and I have faith and confidence in him."
  
"Beyond that I don't really know a lot, so I'm going to go back to being governor and doing things I can control," Bill Haslam said.
  
Bill Haslam said he has not had an active day-to-day management role in the company in 15 years, though he said he had no regrets about keeping his unspecified holdings in the privately owned company outside of a blind trust he established for his other investments after he was elected governor in 2010.
  
"The point of a blind trust is to say, I don't know that I own that," Haslam said. "As I said at the time, it felt a little disingenuous to say I don't know if I own Pilot or not."
  
Haslam has refused to divulge how much money he earns from his stake in Pilot, which had $29 billion in revenues in 2012.
  
He has argued that releasing his Pilot earnings would reveal personal information about the income of family members not running for office, and proprietary information about the privately held company.
  
The FBI has said the search was part of an ongoing investigation but would not provide additional details. The governor said he had not been contacted by federal agents.
  
The Haslam brothers are supporters of the University of Tennessee, where their father, Jim Haslam, played tackle on the 1951 national championship football team under Gen. Robert R. Neyland, who built the Volunteers into a football powerhouse.
  
The elder Haslam founded the Pilot Corp. in 1958 with a single gas station in Gate City, Va. He credits his sons with expanding the chain from mostly gas stations and convenience stores to a "travel center" concept featuring branded fast food service.
  
Bill Haslam acknowledged that the federal raids were worrisome.
  
"That's a business that obviously my family is involved in, people I care a lot about," Haslam said. "And to say, `Oh, it doesn't feel like a big deal,' is wrong."

The company doesn't know why FBI officials closed the headquarters but is cooperating with authorities, spokeswoman Lauren Christ said in a statement. Pilot Flying J retail operations remain open, she said.

Jimmy Haslam stepped down as company CEO after buying the Browns from previous owner Randy Lerner in a $1 billion deal in August. He was previously a minority owner of the rival Pittsburgh Steelers but sold that.

Pilot then brought in John Compton, who had been with PepsiCo Inc. for 30 years and its president for less than a year, to replace Haslam as CEO.

In February, Pilot announced Jimmy Haslam was returning as Pilot CEO and Compton would become a consultant.

"The FBI secured our headquarters (Monday) and informed us they are investigating Pilot/Flying J. We will cooperate appropriately with any and all external investigations and conduct our own. I believe and trust there has been no wrongdoing. The integrity of our company always has been job #1," said Jimmy Haslam in a news release.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league was aware of the investigation but had no other information or comment.

Bill Haslam has no position with the company but still has an unspecified holding in it, according to his limited financial disclosures.

David Smith, a spokesman for the governor, said he was "aware of the situation in Knoxville today" but declined to comment further. He referred any questions for more information to Pilot.

During the 2010 governor's race, Bill Haslam refused to divulge how much money he earned from Pilot, the family-founded chain with annual revenues of $20 billion.

He argued that releasing his Pilot earnings would reveal personal information about the income of family members not running for office, and proprietary information about the privately held company.

Since being elected governor, Bill Haslam has also kept his Pilot holdings outside of a blind trust he has created for other investments.

Pilot was founded in 1958 by the Haslam brothers' father, Jim Haslam. The company bought Flying J for $1.8 billion, closing the deal in 2010, and says it now has more than 600 interstate travel centers and 25,000 employees.

In 2009, Pilot settled a price gouging lawsuit brought by the Tennessee attorney general and paid fines in Georgia and Kentucky.

Haslam said during the 2010 campaign that the pricing problems were quickly addressed and new software was created to avoid a repeat of what occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike in 2008.

"I promise you that for a company that's based on 52 years of community service and low prices we would never do anything intentionally to put that risk," Haslam said in a October 2010 debate.

Copyright WSMV 2013 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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