Agents with the FBI and Internal Revenue Service raided Pilot Flying J headquarters on Monday afternoon.
Knoxville, Tenn.-based fuel-industry juggernaut is the operator of the largest travel center network in North America. Its CEO is Jimmy Haslam, owner of the Cleveland Browns.
Media were barred from the Pilot campus, and the entrance was blocked. Pilot employees were being escorted off the corporate campus on Lonas Road.
“The FBI secured our headquarters today and informed us they are investigating Pilot Flying J,” Haslam told the Knoxville News Sentinel Co. in an email statement Monday afternoon. “We will cooperate appropriately with any and all external investigations and conduct our own. I believe and trust there has been no wrongdoing. The integrity of our company always has been job No. 1.”
A company spokesperson said Pilot Food Marts, Pilot Travel Centers and Flying J Travel Plazas remain open.
Pilot Flying J has a 50-year success story that propelled its owners into political, business and sports prominence.
The corporation, whose Lonas Road-headquarters was locked down by the FBI this afternoon, started with a series of gas stations founded by Jim Haslam in the late 1950s and became one of the largest private companies in the country.
Haslam, the family patriarch, retired from the company in 1995. His eldest son, Jimmy Haslam, took over as CEO and last year purchased the Cleveland Browns football team. The younger son, Bill Haslam, was once president of the company but left to take his turn in politics.
After two terms as Knoxville mayor, he is now beginning his third year of his first term as governor of Tennessee.
The company began its rise to prominence when Jim Haslam incorporated Pilot Oil in 1951 and opened his first station in Gate City, Va., the same year. In 1965, Marathon purchased half of Pilot and loaned the company $4 million to build new stores.
The business expanded to convenience stores in 1976 and opened its first travel center in Corbin, Ky., in 1981. Pilot bought back Marathon's half-interest in 1988.
Six years later, the company announced its acquisition of 11 Pro Stop travel centers in five states, making it the second-largest truck stop chain by both the number of locations and the volume of diesel fuel pumped.
Pilot announces acquisition of 11 Pro Stop travel centers in five states, making it the nation's second-largest truck stop chain in terms of locations and volume of diesel fuel pumped.
Shake-ups among the top leadership didn't phase the company, and in 2001, the News Sentinel reported that Pilot signed a deal with Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC to combine a majority of its travel-center operations. Two years after that, Pilot Travel Centers submits the winning bid of $189 million to buy Williams Travel Centers' 60 locations in 15 states.
In 2008, Marathon announced a deal to sell its 50 percent stake in Pilot Travel Centers for $700 million to Pilot Corp. at the same time that Pilot Corp. announced a separate deal to sell 47.5 percent interest in Pilot Travel Centers to CVC Capital Partners.
In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission gave preliminary approval to a proposed merger of Pilot Travel Centers and Flying J, just months before the youngest Haslam won the governor's race.
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