A new judge will preside over the federal prosecutions of former Pilot Flying J executives accused of conspiring to bilk trucking customers of fuel rebates.
Senior U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier of Chattanooga will take over for Amul Thapar of Covington, Kentucky, an order signed and filed Friday by Chief U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan of the Eastern District of Tennessee states.
Thapar, who has directed the case since federal indictments were returned in 2016, has been tapped by President Donald Trump for a seat on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved Thapar's nomination for the Cincinnati-based seat.
Collier took senior status in 2014 in the Eastern District after almost 20 years on the federal bench. He was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1995.
Eight former Pilot Flying J employees are facing prosecution in connection with an alleged diesel fuel rebate scheme. They're scheduled to stand trial in October.
A federal grand jury in February 2016 indicted the defendants, including the former president, alleging they used the rebate scheme to help line their pockets and enrich the nation’s largest chain of truck stops and travel centers.
Those indicted: former President Mark Hazelwood, 57; Scott "Scooter" Wombold, 56, vice president of national accounts, and John ‘Stick” Freeman, 52, former vice president of sales; account rep Katy Bibee, 35; account rep Heather Jones, 45; Vicki Borden, director of wholesale and inside sales, 62; Karen Mann, 57, regional account representative; and John Spiewak, 48, regional sales manager in Ohio.
Defense attorneys have sought to move the Pilot trial, arguing excessive publicity in the Knoxville area will make it too hard to seat a jury.
A plea agreement deadline of June 23 has been set for the eight defendants.
Ten former employees previously have pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud charges and are available to testify in the case. Their cases also will be transferred over to Collier for final disposition, Varlan's order shows.
Pilot has paid an $85 million civil settlement covering dozens of trucking companies that filed suit in the alleged scheme.
In July 2014, the privately held Knoxville-based company agreed to cooperate with the federal criminal investigation and to pay a $92 million penalty.