New London and southeastern Connecticut News, Sports, Business, Entertainment and VideoFebruary 19, 2020
Legal bills now exceed $2.6 million in connection with five former utility cooperative officials indicted on federal corruption charges for their roles in planning lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby and a West Virginia golf resort.
Because the five defendants were executive staff or board members of the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative when the trips occurred, their legal costs are being covered by the cooperative. CMEEC, however, has filed a federal civil lawsuit against the insurance company that provided the board and staff indemnification policy it feels should be paying the legal costs.
CMEEC officials and the state municipal ratepayer advocate are pursuing other avenues for possible reimbursement of the costs from the five defendants.
Former CMEEC CEO Drew Rankin, former CMEEC Chief Financial Officer Edward Pryor, former Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda, the former board vice chairman, former board Chairman James Sullivan of Norwich and former board Treasurer Edward DeMuzzio of Groton face charges of conspiracy and theft from a program receiving federal funds. CMEEC hosted trips to the Kentucky Derby called board retreats for four years from 2013 through 2016 for top staff, board members, family and dozens of invited guests. Two trips were taken to The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.
The trial is scheduled to begin in October in the U.S. District Court in New Haven. The defendants are seeking to move the trial to the Hartford district, which would not draw potential jurors from municipalities of CMEEC ratepayers or a judge’s ruling to exempt CMEEC ratepayers from jury selection.
David Silverstone, the state independent municipal ratepayer consumer advocate, said he has contacted the Victims Assistance Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to seek to recover legal costs in the criminal case, should there be a plea agreement or a finding of guilty in the case.
“The real victims of the alleged actions are the consumers of the CMEEC members,” Silverstone said in a written statement to The Day. “These consumers have suffered financially as a result of the actions of the defendants. As a further injury to these consumers, CMEEC, and hence its customers, have been forced to pay legal fees for these defendants.”
According to information provided by CMEEC to The Day this week, the total legal costs from November 2016 — when CMEEC received the first federal subpoenas at the start of the criminal investigation — through January 2020 totaled $2,157,461, divided among several law firms.
In addition to paying defendants’ legal fees, CMEEC is incurring its own legal costs, totaling $483,273 through January 2020 starting with initial response to federal subpoenas prior to the indictments and continuing in response to requests for numerous additional documents in the criminal proceedings.
The firm Finn, Dixon & Herling, representing Pryor, has submitted the highest total legal bills at…