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Pilot 'Manuel' rebate probe impacts race relations

8:40 PM, Apr 23, 2013   |    comments
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Pilot Flying J has dealt with more than a week of public scrutiny after the FBI raided the company's Knoxville headquarters in an investigation of rebate fraud.  Affidavits claim some Pilot employees short-changed "unsophisticated" trucking companies that receive "manual" rebates for fuel purchases.

The alleged manual rebate scheme also directly involve race.  The transcripts of secretly recorded conversations with Pilot sales managers indicate a perceived vulnerability among businesses owned by Hispanics in South Florida.

The nicknames for the alleged manual rebate fraud scheme also include variations of "Manual" to become a Hispanic name pronounced "Manuel" or "Manwell." 

The transcripts quote Pilot's director of sales for the east region, Kevin Hanscomb, as saying, "They're not stupid, there is a language barrier.  So you can get away with a little bit more because they know that they are not going to understand everything that you say."

The transcript continues with quotes from Hanscomb that say Hispanic owners in South Florida would allow some "forgiveness" and believe they may have misunderstood rather than conclude the salesperson was involved in fraud.

Former UT and NFL kicker Fuad Reveiz lived in South Florida when he played for the Miami Dolphins.  Reveiz now lives in Knoxville and serves as president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of East Tennessee. 

Reveiz said he does not want to jump to conclusions about the Pilot Flying J investigation.  However, in the broader context of the business world as a whole, Reveiz said it is not uncommon for unscrupulous sales people to exploit language barriers.

"As an organization, we pride ourselves on wanting to educate our members on how to run their businesses and make sure abuses do not happen.  The key to not allowing yourself to become victimized is education," said Reveiz.  "Let's face it, discrimination happens everywhere and it happens all over our country.  If you are black, yellow, or blue, it doesn't matter.  The fact that I'm different than you are, you will have the 10 percent of idiots who will try to discriminate against you because of whatever you look like."

Reveiz said he will take a wait-and-see approach to the investigation of Pilot Flying J. Reveiz does not want to paint everyone at the company with a broad brush due to the alleged actions of a few.

"Knowing the Haslam family, I highly doubt it came from above.  That's just me saying that. To me, it would be a shame for all of us to start throwing stones at an organization because of the actions of a couple of people. Now, if it happens from above, shame on everybody. But that's something we still have to wait and see if that is the case.  Right now all we have are accusations."

In Monday's press conference, CEO Jimmy Haslam made a statement that included comments about how he was embarrassed by the language in the transcripts.  Haslam did not take any questions from the media during the conference.

10News emailed the company in attempt to get reaction on the transcripts in the context of targeting Hispanics.  A spokesperson replied Tuesday by writing, "Pilot Flying J has said it finds much of the language in the affidavit offensive, embarrassing and out of character with the values and ideals of Pilot Flying J. You can include in that statement any language that disparages any customer or individual for any reason."

10News also reached out to Kevin Hanscomb to provide an opportunity to comment on the quotes cited in the affidavit's transcripts. When contacted via telephone Tuesday, Hanscomb stated "no comment."

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