Ex-Pilot Flying J president ordered under house arrest

Ex-Pilot president Mark Hazelwood leaves federal court on Friday. (Courtesy: WATE)

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WATE) – A federal judge ordered the former President of Pilot Flying J convicted of three felony charges to be placed on house arrest as he awaits sentencing.

Mark Hazelwood was convicted Thursday in Chattanooga of three felony charges, including conspiracy, wire fraud and witness tampering.

Federal prosecutors said he is a flight risk and should be booked in jail until his June 27 sentencing hearing, but Bruce Guyton ruled against jail time.

While Judge Guyton agreed with federal prosecutors that Hazelwood is a flight risk, Guyton said Hazelwood does not have a criminal history and does not pose a threat to the public.

Instead he ruled in favor of house arrest, mandating that Hazelwood wear an electronic monitoring device and be confined to his Knoxville home until June.

Part of that ruling could have been influenced by the amount of people present in the courtroom Friday in support of Mark Hazelwood, with as many as 75 people filling the court benches and standing in the aisle .

Rusty Hardin, Hazelwood’s lead counsel, called eight different people to testify on Hazelwood’s behalf, from family members to people who have worked for him.

All of the witnesses said that Hazelwood had no intention of leaving the country to avoid possible prison time, describing Hazelwood as a devoted family man with strong ties to the Knoxville community.

But federal prosecutors argued that Hazelwood has the assets and ability to flee if he wanted to, referencing a corporate airplane and a boat in Hazelwood’s name.

U.S. Assistant Attorney Trey Hamilton also reminded the court that Hazelwood faces between 160 to 260 months in prison for his convictions, which in his view is an incentive to flee.

Hardin, however, paints a different picture of Hazelwood’s intentions, saying that his ultimate goal is to appeal is convictions and clear his name.

“We deeply believe he’s not a flight risk. Look he strongly and we strongly think he’s not guilty, so as we told you yesterday, we don’t agree with the jury verdict… but we’re going to be appealing this thing,” Hardin said after the hearing. “He wants to set his name free. If he ran, he will never get his name back, and his intent is to get his name back and get another jury to conclude that he’s not guilty. It’ll be different evidence. I think we’ll get another trial and when we do, our deepest hope and belief is that he’ll be found not guilty, but in the mean time, we want him on bond before he’s sentenced in June.”

Testimony revealed that Pilot Flying J has continued making payments to Hazelwood since he left the company in 2014, paying him $34 million in the past four years, with another $6 million owed to Hazelwood this spring.

Pilot Flying J responded in a statement that the money was a part of an employment contract.