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The Ledger - EST. 1978 - Nashville Edition

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VOL. 37 | NO. 15 | Friday, April 12, 2013

Gov. Haslam says he knows no reason for FBI's Pilot search

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he still doesn't know why federal agents searched the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J, the family-owned chain of truck stops run by his brother, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.

The Republican governor made an impromptu visit to the press suite in the legislative office complex to discuss the raid, a day after the FBI and Internal Revenue Service shut down the Pilot offices.

"There's a lot of gossip and suspicion about what happened, and the truth is, nobody knows," Haslam said. "And I don't know either."

Haslam said he had spoken with his brother but didn't have any further details on which records the agents were searching for.

The governor said Jimmy Haslam stressed "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 go ing to go back to being governor and doing things I can control," he said.

Haslam said he has not had an active day-to-day management role in the company in 15 years, though he said he had no regrets about keeping his unspecified holdings in the privately owned company outside of a blind trust he established for his other investments after he was elected governor in 2010.

"The point of a blind trust is to say, I don't know that I own that," Haslam said. "As I said at the time, it felt a little disingenuous to say I don't know if I own Pilot or not."

Haslam has refused to divulge how much money he earns from his stake in Pilot, which had $29 billion in revenues in 2012.

He has argued that releasing his Pilot earnings would reveal personal information about the income of family members not running for office, and proprietary information about the privately held company.

The FBI has said the search was part of an ongoing investigation but would not provide additional details. The governor said he had not been contacted by federal agents.

The Haslam brothers are supporters of the University of Tennessee, where their father, Jim Haslam, played tackle on the 1951 national championship football team under Gen. Robert R. Neyland, who built the Volunteers into a football powerhouse.

The elder Haslam founded the Pilot Corp. in 1958 with a single gas station in Gate City, Va. He credits his sons with expanding the chain from mostly gas stations and convenience stores to a "travel center" concept featuring branded fast food service.

Bill Haslam acknowledged that the federal raids were worrisome.

"That's a business that obviously my family is involved in, people I care a lot about," Haslam said. "And to say, 'Oh, it doesn't feel like a big deal,' is wrong."