Downtown Norwich printing business moving to former screenprinting shop in Taftville

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Norwich — The owner of a downtown sign printing company has purchased and will move into the former Taftville home of BMTees Inc., a business connected with the federal indictment of five electric utility cooperative officials last week associated with lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby and a luxury golf resort.

Fran Houle, owner of Prokop Signs, purchased the building for $170,000 in September, under the name Houle LLC, from Zowie Realty LLC. BMTees owner Debra Bilda was listed as the only principal in the LLC on the state business directory. Houle said Wednesday he hopes to move in by early 2019 following renovations to the building, including opening a previously sealed-off garage bay door to allow him to do custom vehicle lettering indoors.

BMTees Inc., owned by Debra Bilda, wife of Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda, was damaged in a fire on Dec. 14, 2017 — caused by a sweatshirt becoming caught in a dryer conveyor — and never reopened in that location. The business was cited in a federal indictment handed down last Thursday against five officials with the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, including John Bilda, for alleged conspiracy and theft from a program that received federal funding.

The indictment described how CMEEC top officials conducted lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby for four years, from 2013 through 2016, and to The Greenbrier golf resort in West Virginia. The indictment said participants also purchased and received luxury gifts and souvenirs on those trips, including gifts bought at BMTees.

According to the indictment, in September 2015, CMEEC paid $3,426.80 to BMTees to purchase custom golf balls and hats for participants of the October 2015 trip to the golf resort. “The golf balls were imprinted with the faces of several of the invited guests on the trip and were intended as gifts in connection with the trip,” the indictment stated.

A voicemail left on the BMTees phone number was not returned Wednesday.

New chapter for Taftville building

Houle said the fire damage was not extensive and did not cause structural damage to the building. He plans to move his printing equipment from his current location in the 1,800-square-foot building at 238 Boswell Ave. to the nearly 4,600-square-foot Taftville facility, where he also will have off-street parking for the business.

Prokop Signs started in 1997 on East Main Street, and Houle moved the business to the Boswell Avenue building 15 years ago. Houle also owns the Boswell Avenue building and plans to put it on the market once the move is complete.

c.bessette@theday.com

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