NASHVILLE -- With a year-long federal fraud investigation looming over it, the huge truck-stop chain owned by the family of the Cleveland Browns owner and Tennessees governor is doing some housecleaning at its highest levels. Several top executives at Pilot Flying J, including the president, abruptly left this week, more than a year after FBI agents raided the Knoxville, Tennessee, headquarters of the nations largest diesel retailer. Ten former employees have previously pleaded guilty to helping cheat trucking companies out of promised rebates and discounts. Those cases and this weeks departures, observers note, could indicate that prosecutors are entering the final phase of a methodical probe that has included records suggesting Pilot CEO and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam knew of the scheme, something he denies. One expert said Haslam might be cutting ties with his senior staff in a bid to persuade prosecutors not to charge the company his father founded decades ago, one in which his brother, Gov. Bill Haslam, still holds an undisclosed stake. Pilot President Mark Hazelwood and Scott "Scooter" Wombold, vice-president of national accounts, left the company Monday, with Haslam sending a company-wide email thanking Hazelwood for his service but saying nothing about why or how he was leaving. Tuesday saw the departure of five more members of the sales team. Dennis B. Francis, a Knoxville attorney who has worked in federal criminal defence for 40 years, said the only way this weeks departures make sense to him is if some of the people leaving are co-operating with prosecutors. For a defendant to get a lighter sentence than federal guidelines mandate, prosecutors have to file court papers saying that person provided substantial assistance to the government. Once prosecutors have the evidence they need to convict, they no longer offer any promises of special consideration. "They call it getting on the bus," said Francis, who is not involved in the Pilot case. "And theres only so much room on the bus." Wombolds attorney, John E. Kelly, said in an email that his client had been "helping the company repair many customer relationships during the past 14 months. Mr. Wombolds departure from the company is not connected to past guilty pleas entered into by former employees, and any inference that there is a connection is not accurate." Hazelwoods attorney declined to comment. Company representatives said they couldnt comment on specific personnel moves, which took place while Jimmy Haslam was meeting with fellow NFL owners in Atlanta. "Nothing more should be read into the events of this week than things playing themselves out," spokesman Tom Ingram said Wednesday. "Otherwise, the company continues to go full steam ahead and business as usual, and is doing very well." Jimmy Haslam has denied any previous knowledge of the fraud or any personal wrongdoing. The governor has said he is not involved with operating Pilot Flying J. Pilot agreed in November to pay out nearly $85 million to settle claims in a class-action lawsuit with 5,500 trucking companies. Several companies have filed separate lawsuits against Pilot that are ongoing. Nashville criminal defence attorney and former prosecutor David Raybin said that, based on his observations and experience, the departure of so many managers at once indicates that criminal charges could soon be filed. And he suggested that prosecutors are aiming high. "You dont make a bunch of people plead guilty at the lower levels and then let the top people off with a fine," said Raybin, who does not represent anyone in the case. "Theyre potentially jailing five to 10 people. You dont do that unless you are targeting the highest levels of the company." An affidavit filed last year to obtain a search warrant for Pilot headquarters states that a confidential informant told the FBI that both Hazelwood and Jimmy Haslam knew about the fraud at the company because it was discussed openly at sales meetings where both were present. Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at George Washington University Law School, said that while the sudden departures are unusual, they could mean any number of things. For example, Pilot might be fearful that the company could be charged criminally, or the companys board of directors may have decided that the people who have left recently were partly responsible for what happened. "One reason the company might fire them is to say, Look, were cleaning house. Were getting rid of the bad people, so dont indict the corporation," Eliason said. C. J. Beathard Jersey
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. - The Kansas City Royals are hoping All-Star catcher Salvador Perez will be back in a few days.SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Padres remembered Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn before Wednesday nights game and then went out and honoured him the best way they could. Pinch-hitter Tommy Medica singled in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning and the Padres beat the Seattle Mariners 2-1 in their first home game since Gwynn died of cancer Monday. "It was a little different today," said manager Bud Black, who played with Gwynn for one season at San Diego State. "Even when the game was over. I think everybody handles what has happened with Tony a little bit differently." Before the game, Mark Martinez, Gwynns top assistant at San Diego State, threw the ceremonial first pitch to Black. The Padres players and coaches then gathered around a large No. 19 painted on the grass in right field, which was Gwynns number and position, and observed a 19-second moment of silence. "It all sort of hit home and Im sure that the stadium, not just the 25 players, but all of us here in the stadium, have come across Tony," Black said. Starters Felix Hernandez and Andrew Cashner pitched well but didnt get a decision. Hernandez struck out 10 and allowed only three singles in seven innings, with no walks. But he allowed the Padres to tie it at 1 on a wild pitch with two outs in the sixth. Everth Cabrera started the winning rally by beating out an infield single on a chopper against Charlie Furbush (0-4). Cabrera was sacrificed over by Alexi Amarista and scored on Medicas liner to centre. James Jones throw home was late and off line. It was Medicas second game-winning hit of the season. Medica had met Gwynn a few times, and had played against San Diego State while at Santa Clara. The Padres lost their first two games after Gwynn died, at Seattle. "You could see it on the road, even in Seattle, I mean, there were Tony Gwynn jerseys all over the place," Medica said. "You could see how much he meant to baseball, let alone the San Diego Padres organization. You could see it again tonight, and all the great things hes done for this team and for baseball. Im sure he was smiling down after that win." It was the mmost runs the Padres have scored in four games.dddddddddddd They had lost three straight, including two in Seattle. Joaquin Benoit (3-0) pitched a perfect eighth. Huston Street worked the ninth for his 19th save in as many chances. Hernandez allowed a leadoff single to Seth Smith in the first and then retired the next 15 batters until Amarista beat out an infield single. Cashner sacrificed Amarista, who took third on Smiths groundout and scored on Hernandezs wild pitch to tie the game at 1. "It was a changeup and I threw it too hard," Hernandez said. "That was a tough loss for us. I missed a lot of pitches." Said manager Lloyd McClendon: "It was a tough game for the Seattle Mariners, not just Felix. Those things happen. They had their best guy on the mound and we had our best guy on the mound. It was one of those games where we knew it was going to be close." Cashner allowed one run and seven hits in seven innings, struck out two and walked two. The Mariners took a 1-0 lead in the second when Mike Zunino was hit by a pitch, took third on Dustin Ackleys single and scored on Brad Millers single. NOTES: The Padres are wearing a patch with No. 19 inside a home plate logo on their jerseys, over the players hearts. Theyre wearing a JC star patch to honour Hall of Fame broadcaster Jerry Coleman, who died Jan. 5 at 89. ... The Padres have scheduled a public tribute to Gwynn for June 26 at Petco Park starting at 7:19 p.m., symbolic because Gwynn made his Padres debut on July 19, 1982. ... Seattle DH Corey Hart (strained left hamstring) and OF Michael Saunders (right AC joint inflammation) are expected to come off the DL on Friday. ... Padres 2B Jedd Gyorko, who has plantar fasciitis in his left foot, is out of a boot and cast but apparently is a ways away from returning. "Its been better," Gyorko said of the injury. ... The Padres plan to place 1B Yonder Alonso (sore right wrist) on the DL and bring up Jake Goebbert. ... The series concludes Thursday afternoon when Seattle RHP Erasmo Ramirez (1-4, 5.27) is scheduled to oppose RHP Jesse Hahn (1-1, 3.72). Cheap NFL Jerseys Wholesale Jerseys Wholesale NFL Jerseys Jerseys From China Wholesale NFL Jerseys Cheap NFL Jerseys Cheap Jerseys
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