CHATTANOOGA (WATE) – “Cheat the customer” is a phrase repeated often in witness testimony at the fraud trial involving four former Pilot Flying J employees.
The government is trying to prove a conspiracy took place within the sales department at Pilot Flying J from 2008 to 2013.
Four defendants are standing trial for fraud charges. 14 others already pleaded guilty. Some of those people are taking the witness stand, testifying to the very conspiracy they participated in.
Testifying Thursday was Pilot’s Former Director of Sales Arnie Ralenkotter. He is one of a number of former Pilot employees expected to testify as the trial continues. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, for admittedly shorting customers out of promised fuel rebates.
He walked the jury through emails and spread sheets, detailing a coordinated efforts to, in his words, cheat the customer.
Ralencotter told jurors how he would offer trucking customers fuel at a discounted rate, then secretly inflate the price and reduce the rebate they were promised, all in an effort to earn more profit for Pilot and more commission for himself and his sales team.
“Did you think you were committing a fraudulent act?” asked Rusty Hardin, Mark Hazelwood’s attorney.
“No,” Ralenotter said in cross examination. “I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t think what I was doing was illegal.”
The defense for the four people standing trial does not deny this conspiracy to defraud happened, just that their clients did not voluntarily and knowingly participate in it.
But the evidence raises questions about that positon, with the defendants being recipients of emails presented in court, showing jurors that they knew about the fraud scheme and possibly even participated in the unethical behavior.
The anticipated 6-week long trial will not be held on Fridays, so court will resume Monday morning in Chattanooga.