Tag Archives: saks

Pilot Flying J Fraud Investigator Once Faced Similar Investigation

Excerpt from a Cleveland Plain Dealer story:
CLEVELAND, Ohio — R. Brad Martin was chief executive of Saks Inc. a decade ago when the luxury retailer was embroiled in a fraud investigation that found the company wrongly kept millions of dollars owed to clothing suppliers.
Martin today is the board member at Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Flying J who will sign off on an internal investigation into whether Pilot kept millions of dollars in fuel rebates owed to trucking companies.
The similarities between the two cases and the close ties between Martin and Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam — for years they’ve moved in the same social circles and their family summer homes are a stone’s throw from each other in the Smoky Mountains — make some question whether Martin can be objective about any findings of fraud at Pilot.
“At the very least there was a cloud over his tenure at Saks,” said Christopher Ideker, a forensic accountant who has participated in many audit committee investigations for companies. “To me, you have a guy calling the shots on an investigation about stealing from customers who was investigated for stealing from vendors. That seems pretty straightforward.”
Leland Wykoff, a shareholder with Saks and its predecessor for 15 years, said he quizzed Martin at Saks’ 2005 annual meeting about how clothing suppliers had been cheated. Wykoff said the CEO took responsibility for what occurred on his watch.
“I leaned forward,” Wykoff said Friday, recalling his conversation with Martin. “I pulled my glasses down on my nose and I locked eyes with him. There was a pregnant pause and I said, ‘Then why are you still here?’ You could have heard a pin drop.”
Haslam, owner of the Cleveland Browns, said he initially didn’t know about any rebate problems at Pilot but said the company’s investigation now shows that about 250 trucking firms are owed money. He suspended several sales managers and took other remedial steps after the April 15 raid by FBI agents on Pilot headquarters.
Chief among Haslam’s moves was his selection of Martin, 61, of Nashville, to oversee the internal investigation at the privately-held company, running on a parallel track to federal agents’ work.
Saks Inc., owner of the venerable Saks Fifth Avenue department store chain, came into regulators’ crosshairs around 2004.
…Saks ultimately settled the SEC complaint about its treatment of vendors without admitting or denying fault — shelling out about $60 million, according to C. Warren Neel, who was head of Saks’ audit committee.
Martin, CEO and chairman between 1989 and January 2006, was never charged in the wrongdoing. His brother Brian Martin, Saks’ general counsel, as well as two other executives, were fired over the scandal, though also never charged.
Neel’s committee found no direct failings among other senior officers. But the committee criticized the level of communication between Saks’ executive suite and board members, and recommended reducing or eliminating bonuses for Brad Martin and the company’s chief financial officer.
Martin stepped down as CEO in a management shakeup within months of the SEC settlement.
Neel, who served as dean of the business school at the University of Tennessee for 25 years and had been invited by Martin to sit on Saks’ board, said the in-house examination was difficult and very uncomfortable.
“The social relationships for me were a major emotional problem,” he said. “I was with friends.”
Neel said he found no evidence that Martin’s brother or other executives “were a major part of the problem, but the SEC required that we do something.”

Note: Gov. Bill Haslam was a Saks executive 1999-2001.