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VOL. 37 | NO. 25 | Friday, June 21, 2013

Gov. Haslam shrugs off Pilot links to coal company

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam says he is unconcerned that a company seeking coal mining rights on public land in Tennessee is managed by a board member of Pilot Flying J, the truck stop chain owned by the Haslam family.

Hillsborough Resources, a subsidiary of the Vitol Group, has been negotiating to mine coal within the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area near Crossville. The president and CEO of Vitol's North and South American operations, Mike Loya, serves on the Pilot board.

Haslam, who owns an undisclosed stake in Pilot, told The Associated Press this week that he doesn't know Loya personally. A Vitol representative did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The governor shrugged off questions about the multiple connections between the coal company and Pilot.

"That's just how life works a lot of time," Haslam said. "Look, there's a whole lot of lobbyists who represent a whole lot of different people."

"Ther e's just a lot of people who have overlapping interests," he said.

Tom Ingram, a close adviser to both the governor and Pilot, faces a hearing by the Tennessee Ethics Commission hearing over his failure to register as a lobbyist on behalf of Hillsborough.

Ingram ran Haslam's 2010 gubernatorial campaign and has also coordinated the company's public response to an FBI raid on Pilot's headquarters in April. The privately-held company is run by the governor's brother, Jimmy Haslam, who also is the owner of the NFL's Cleveland Browns.

Five members of the Pilot sales team have pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud and are cooperating with federal prosecutors in the ongoing investigation.

Gov. Haslam announced Tuesday that he will soon begin paying Ingram out of his re-election campaign account instead of through personal funds. Ingram did not immediately return a message seeking comment.