News Column

FBI and IRS Raid Pilot/Flying J Headquarters

April 16, 2013

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he has no idea what federal investigators who raided his family's Pilot/Flying J headquarters in Knoxville are probing.

Agents of the FBI and Internal Revenue Service arrived unannounced and en mass at the company's offices Monday, secured the building, ordered employees to leave without carrying any office items with them and seized an unknown number of records and documents. They asked Knoxville Police to help secure the large office complex but did not tell police officials in advance where they would be working. The FBI in Knoxville would only say that the action is part of an ongoing investigation.

"Obviously when something happens like this, there's a lot of gossip and suspicion about what happened and the truth is nobody knows and I don't know either. I don't know really any more of the facts than what you do," the governor told reporters in a surprise visit to the Capitol media suite.

"I have spoken with my brother who said 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 the things that I can control."

Haslam said no investigators or law enforcement authorities have visited his office nor contacted him and he has not had any conversation with them.

"All I know is they came in (to Pilot in Knoxville) looking for certain records and that's all I know. I really don't" know what kinds of records, he said. He said no one had any idea before the agents' entry Monday that any investigation was under way.

"I think from what I understand the company was very surprised,"he said..

Pilot Oil was founded with one gasoline station more than 50 years ago by his father, James Haslam, a former University of Tennessee football star. The governor's brother, James A. "Jimmy" Haslam III, is president and CEO of the company. The family, including the governor and his sister, still hold a large stake in the company, which operates travel and fuel centers across much of the country.

The governor said he was last involved operationally with Pilot in 1998. His current role, he said, is as a shareholder.

Haslam said it's his understanding that the company's offices are back open today. "The stores have never closed. They kept going. The office is back open. From what I understand from talking with my brother last night, they were planning on telling everybody the best they can do is come back and focus on their jobs."

Asked if he's worried about how the dramatic events appear, he said. "Sure. To say you didn't would not exactly be honest. That's a business that obviously my family's involved in -- people I care a lot about . So to say it doesn't feel like a big deal is wrong."

Despite his concern, the governor said his attention and focus is on his job as governor.


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Source: (c)2013 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.) Distributed by MCT Information Services