The day – Criminal trial of utility officials involved in Kentucky Derby travel begins Monday


Almost three years to the day after five public service officials appeared in federal court in New Haven to face charges related to their role in planning lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby, they will stand trial in the same courthouse for these charges.

Jury selection took place last week and the criminal trial begins at 8:45 a.m. on Monday in federal court in New Haven.

Former Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative CEO Drew Rankin, former CFO Edward Pryor, former Norwich Public Utilities CEO John Bilda and former CMEEC board members James Sullivan of Norwich and Edward DeMuzzio de Groton face conspiracy and theft charges under a program that receives funds in association with travel. Two other trips were made to The Greenbrier luxury golf resort in West Virginia.

The charges stem from annual trips organized by CMEEC for dozens of senior officials, board members, some family members, local political leaders, vendors and others from 2013 to 2016. Four of the defendants face four charges of robbery, while Sullivan faces three charges, as he resigned his positions on the CMEEC and Norwich Public Services Board ahead of the Kentucky Derby trip in 2016.

CMEEC is owned by its member municipal utilities: Norwich Public Utilities, Groton Utilities, Bozrah Light & Power, Jewett City Department of Public Utilities, South Norwalk Electric and Water and Norwalk Third Taxing District. The defendants allegedly used the money from CMEEC revenues that was intended to be returned to member municipalities as a rate stabilization fund.

The defendants argue that the money used for travel was CMEEC money, not belonging to the members, and that the law of the state that created the CMEEC allowed it to operate as a corporation, including allowing board retreats, such as the Kentucky Derby and the Golf Resort. .

The trial had been postponed twice during the COVID-19 pandemic, and over the past three years the defendants have been allowed to travel on personal or business trips across the country and abroad.

A slew of motions, counter motions and oral arguments were filed in October, as the defendants asked Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer to reconsider his dismissal of the motions to dismiss the case on several grounds. The defendants also asked the court to prevent US lawyers from labeling the trips “lavish” and to refrain from naming CMEEC member cities, their taxpayers or their taxpayers as “victims” of the alleged thefts.

Another motion by the defendants called for US attorneys not to be allowed to present evidence or to mention that CMEEC is paying for the defense of the five former heads of utility co-ops. CMEEC paid nearly $ 4 million to teams of lawyers representing the five defendants based on CMEEC regulations which called for compensation for CMEEC officials for alleged wrongdoing.

The Day requested an updated total of legal fees paid to cover the defendants’ legal fees. But CMEEC’s attorney Joseph Martini said that while CMEEC intended to comply with the request, he was informed by the defendants’ attorney that they planned to file a written objection to the disclosure of the total cost.

CMEEC is engaged in a separate federal civil lawsuit against its indemnity insurance company, National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, challenging the company’s refusal to cover legal defense costs. While CMEEC had hoped to resolve this dispute before the criminal trials, lawyers for both sides recently agreed to continue the case for up to 30 days after the conclusion of the criminal trials.

Defense lawyers called the references to court costs “irrelevant” to the criminal charges.

Regardless of the trial that begins Monday, Rankin and Sullivan face a second indictment on two counts each of conspiracy and theft for allegedly using nearly $ 100,000 of CMEEC funds to reimburse Sullivan for personal expenses. , including travel. The parties have agreed to begin this trial at the conclusion of the first case.

Lawyers for the five defendants also called on the government not to be allowed to present evidence of other alleged “prior wrongdoing” by Sullivan and Rankin. Sullivan resigned from CMEEC and the Norwich Board of Public Utilities Commissioners in the fall of 2015 following an investigation into the alleged sexual harassment of an NPU employee. NPU paid a $ 35,000 settlement to the alleged victim in 2016. Rankin’s alleged wrongdoing has not been defined.

Another request asked prosecutors to refrain from mentioning Sullivan’s actions regarding solar power company Brightfields. Sullivan was a paid lobbyist for the company as well as a member of the CMEEC board of directors and chairman of the Norwich utilities commission, and he voted on the solar contracts with Brightfields while serving on the boards of directors .

As of Friday, Judge Meyer’s rulings on most of the motions had not been filed.

The government memo, filed Oct. 12 by acting US attorney Leonard C. Boyle, set out the government’s argument that the defendants were being accused of their leadership role by allegedly using money belonging to CMEEC. and its member cities “for their personal benefit to pay for a series of lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby and the Greenbrier Golf Resort in West Virginia.

Boyle said the government will show that the travel was unrelated to CMEEC’s business or the cooperative’s statutory mission to provide reliable and low-cost electricity rates to members.

“Instead, these trips and the associated costs – which included travel expenses, private plane tickets, first-class hotel accommodation, meals, tickets to sporting events, golf fees. , keepsakes and gifts – were meant to personally benefit, compensate and reward those charged. the accused and their family, friends and associates.

In their trial note, the defendants’ attorneys jointly stated that the defendants have pleaded not guilty and will prove that the government cannot prove the “main allegation” that the CMEEC board pensions were only at personal purposes.

Defense lawyers said they plan to call multiple witnesses and, depending on the government’s case, “the defendants will determine when the time comes whether they choose to testify in their own defense.”

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