In the wake of the FBI raid on Pilot Flying J headquarters on April 15, a slew of lawsuits rained down on the fuel giant in connection with the federal investigation into rebate fraud.
The first lawsuit was filed in Knox County Circuit Court by Knoxville attorney Drew McElroy on behalf of four trucking companies. A few weeks ago McElroy filed on behalf of another trucking company.
"We have two separate actions in Knox County Circuit Court," said McElroy. "We go to court Thursday because Pilot has requested a stay that would stop our case from moving forward until after a November fairness hearing on their proposed lawsuit settlement agreement, which we have opted out of."
The settlement agreement was announced in July after Pilot said it negotiated terms with eight of the more than 20 companies that had filed lawsuits. McElroy said that agreement was worked out with some mysterious characters.
"My concern is more about what we don't know that what we do know," said McElroy. "Specifically, I have concerns over National Trucking Reclamation Services LLC in Little Rock, Arkansas."
National Trucking filed a federal lawsuit against Pilot Flying J on April 24. That was the first federal case filed against Pilot. The complaint by National Trucking says, "Customers such as Plaintiff were not receiving owed diesel fuel rebates and discounts for years."
But when National Trucking filed the lawsuit, documents show the company was only two days old.
"This company was formed on April 22 and they sued on April 24. The FBI raid was on April 15. They never purchased a drop of fuel from Pilot," said McElroy. "Pilot is very well represented legally, so why Pilot never filed a motion to dismiss is a mystery to me. Instead of asking that they [National Trucking] be dismissed, they are the company [Pilot] runs to with the settlement agreement."
In fact, National Trucking is the first plaintiff listed on the global settlement agreement negotiated with Pilot. That agreement requires Pilot to perform self-audits and pay customers back what they are owed plus six percent interest. The settlement agreement also does not require Pilot to hand over its financial records as part of normal legal discovery and the eight suing companies can split up to $14 million in reimbursed legal fees.
The man who created National Trucking is Lane Kidd, the president of the Arkansas Trucking Association. The ATA is based in Suite 185 of the Victory Building near the Capitol in Little Rock, Arkansas. The address for National Trucking Reclamation Services LLC is identical to the ATA, right down to the same Suite 185.
WBIR reached out to the news staff at fellow Gannett-owned station KTHV in Little Rock, Arkansas, to shoot video of the office. The video shows the name on the door of Suite 185 merely reads, "AR Trucking Association."
"I don't know Kidd from Adam's house cat, so I can't say much about him one way or the other. But this is a shell organization," said McElroy. "But when the Arkansas Trucking Association held its annual convention, Pilot is listed as a gold level sponsor of that convention and it was held two weeks after they [Pilot] got sued."
A 2011 issue of the Arkansas Trucking Report published by the ATA also shows photographs of Pilot employees involved in the rebate investigation holding signs and helping with the annual event.
10News contacted Kidd on Wednesday for any comment on the allegations in court documents that National Trucking is a shell company that was never a customer of Pilot. Kidd replied in an email that he was "not commenting" and would "simply let the documents on file with the court speak for themselves."
Kidd expressed some willingness to speak after a federal fairness hearing on the settlement agreement scheduled for November.
As for whether Pilot potentially helped create or influence National Trucking to have a secret inside ally when negotiating the settlement, the fuel company's attorney Aubrey Harwell flatly denies such speculation.
"Pilot had no knowledge or involvement in the setting up of that company or the running of that company or the operating of that company," said Harwell. "It's just one of the people that sued us or one of the companies that sued us."
Harwell also stated he did not have any specifics about National Trucking and whether or not it was a shell company. However, he questioned why a shell company would sue if there is no documentation of damages.
Harwell rhetorically asked, "Why in the world would somebody set up a company, file a lawsuit, settle a lawsuit, if they didn't think they were going to recover money?"
Harwell clearly denied any wrongdoing by Pilot with regard to any actions by National Trucking.
"That is absolutely wrong. There is no basis at all for that," said Harwell. "If they suggest that, that is outrageous."
McElroy agreed there is no evidence Pilot played a part in the formation of National Trucking and said it would be "a leap" to come to that conclusion. However, he believes the full relationship between Pilot and one of the plaintiffs that negotiated the settlement agreement deserves more investigation.
"It causes me to wonder. There may not be any fire there, but there sure does seem to be a lot of smoke," said McElroy.