As the saying goes, “there is no honor among thieves,” so it should come as no surprise that Pilot employees are already cutting deals with the FBI in order to save their endangered hides. When such deals are offered to underlings, it usually means the feds are seeking bigger fish to fry.
My educated guess is that the investigators are saying “Take us to your pilot (or spend up to 20 years in jail).” Unsurprisingly, the smaller, less appetizing fry are snapping up the bait being offered: reduced sentences. Two Pilot employees, Arnold Ralenkotter and Ashley Judd (not the famous actress) are pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Ralenkotter is also pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
According to an article in USA Today, Nashville attorney David Raybin has suggested that the plea bargains being struck so quickly — just six weeks after the FBI released details of its investigation — may indicate that Pilot and/or its top executives are the feds’ ultimate targets. If so, it seems the investigators’ crosshairs may be bringing them quickly into focus.
William H. Farmer, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, said the quick plea deals also indicate that the defendants may have been cooperating for some time and will likely be called on to testify against their colleagues (presumably their superiors).
Ed Yarbrough, Ralenkotter’s lawyer, said that his client was "very candid with federal investigators about his involvement. He knew it was wrong and indefensible, and we felt it was in his best interest to enter a guilty plea early.”
The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports that federal officials intend to use court documents to prove that Pilot salespeople were actually trained to defraud customers. This training seems to go at least as high as Pilot’s national sales director, Brian Mosher, because in Ralenkotter’s seven-page plea agreement, he admitted to being at an Oct. 25, 2012, sales meeting in which it was agreed that the national sales director would train Pilot employees how to implement the alleged rebate scam.
Since two Pilot employees have gone public, confessing their sins in return for leniency, we can probably expect to see similar deals emerge, since their partners in crime now know that the jig is up. With each confession, more evidence against the sharks at the top of the food chain will also emerge. Will the pilot prove to be a whale? Will Jimmy Haslam, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, be indicted? Might charges be brought against Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, if there is evidence that mail fraud was being committed on his watch, and that he was an active participant?
If charges are brought against Pilot’s acting president, Mark Hazelwood, who allegedly knew about the alleged fraud and did nothing to prevent it, then it stands to reason that Bill Haslam also knew about it, if it was going on when he was Pilot’s acting president. Well, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Hazelwood has hired not one but two big-name attorneys. As another saying goes, “the plot thickens.”
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.