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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    FBI or 'government' making inquiries into CMEEC, NPU and Jewett City Utilities

    Norwich Public Utilities, Jewett City Utilities and an attorney representing the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative all confirmed Thursday that the FBI or "the government" has made inquiries for information from the entities.

    The scrutiny comes shortly after recent uproar over CMEEC's lavish spending on Kentucky Derby trips, though it wasn't clear whether that was the reason for the inquiries.

    An FBI official visited the city-owned NPU headquarters, 16 S. Golden St.

    "I can confirm that an employee from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) came to NPU's offices on the afternoon of Friday, October 28," NPU spokesman Chris Riley said in an email statement to The Day on Thursday. "NPU has pledged its full cooperation with the FBI going forward. While we are unable to determine the course of the investigation at this time, the men and women of NPU remain focused on meeting the needs of our customers every single day, just as we have since 1904."

    "We have been asked not to comment any further on this matter," Riley concluded.

    Norwich City Manager John Salomone also confirmed that the FBI has requested documents and emails from the city. He declined to comment further and would not say which city departments are involved.

    "I am aware of it, and basically, I haven't been at liberty to discuss it, per the FBI suggestion," Salomone said. "They've asked for records from the city as well, emails and other records that we have."

    Jewett City Utilities Director Kenneth Sullivan said the Jewett City Department of Public Utilities also is cooperating with federal authorizes.

    "The Jewett City DPU is aware of an inquiry, and the Jewett City DPU will do everything in its power to be helpful," Sullivan said Thursday evening.

    No information was available Thursday on whether the investigation is connected with a public controversy over lavish trips hosted by the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative to the Kentucky Derby for the past four years for dozens of CMEEC board members, guests and some municipal officials.

    Sullivan, the Jewett City utilities director, also serves as chairman of the CMEEC Board of Directors.

    "I am not at liberty to discuss CMEEC," Sullivan said when asked if CMEEC also is involved in the FBI inquiry.

    Sullivan referred questions about CMEEC to cooperative Executive Director Drew Rankin, who could not be reached to comment Thursday.

    CMEEC attorney Joseph Martini of the firm Wiggin and Dana would only say that a government entity has requested information.

    "We have received a request from the government and are in the process of providing information in response," Martini wrote in an email response to questions from The Day.

    The cooperative is owned by the six-member municipal electric utilities, including NPU, Jewett City Utilities and Groton Utilities, which also owns Bozrah Light & Power.

    "There is no comment to be made relative to your question," Charles Grady, communications outreach specialist for the FBI's New Haven office, said in an email response to inquiries from The Day about the investigation.

    The 2016 Kentucky Derby trip cost $342,330 for 44 invitees, including Norwich Mayor Deberey Hinchey and former Groton City Mayor Dennis Popp. Sullivan did not attend the 2016 trip, but did go on the CMEEC 2015 derby trip, along with 26 other invitees.

    Hinchey said Thursday she does "not want to make a comment about that."

    Groton Utilities Director Ron Gaudet, who participated on one day of this year's trip, also could not be reached to comment Thursday. Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith, who also serves as Groton Utilities commission chairwoman, declined to comment Thursday on whether Groton Utilities is involved in the FBI's inquiry.

    Galbraith, who has served as mayor since 2011, said she has never been invited on the derby trips and did not know about them until media reports surfaced in October. She has launched her own investigation into the funding of the trips. The Groton and Bozrah utilities commissions voted Oct. 26 to ask CMEEC for detailed accounting of all CMEEC events and retreats since 2012.

    CMEEC has hosted the derby trips since 2013, with the combined total cost of $1.02 million, according to figures released to The Day in a Freedom of Information request.

    CMEEC officials have called the trips "strategic retreats," although they featured no meetings, conferences, presentations or workshops on utility cooperative business.

    CMEEC officials have stressed that no member ratepayer or taxpayer money was used to pay for the trips. Instead, they were funded through a "CMEEC Margin" fund comprising revenue from sales of electricity and other services to non-member entities, including the Mohegan tribe, towns in Massachusetts and management of hydropower facilities for the Hartford-area Metropolitan District Commission.

    But when asked for an accounting of the Margin fund, CMEEC provided the Day with a heavily redacted sheet with revenue sources blacked out and the entire second half of the sheet blacked out.

    Four ethics complaints have been filed recently in Norwich, at least one of which involves the derby trip, a participant of this year's trip confirmed. One complaint has been filed in Groton City. All ethics complaints remain confidential unless the Ethics Commission decides there is probable cause to conduct public investigations.

    The City of Groton Board of Ethics met behind closed doors Thursday to start a probable cause investigation into the complaint, which is the city's first ethics complaint. Ethics board Chairman Robert Zuliani said the board would meet to consider the complaint and schedule a date for a follow-up meeting.

    The Norwich Ethics Commission is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Monday, with closed-door discussions on all four complaints on its agenda.

    On Monday of this week, an ad hoc committee formed by the CMEEC board met for the first time to discuss future events and retreats the cooperative might hold.

    Sullivan, who chairs the ad hoc committee, stated at the start of the meeting that the committee must speak "loudly" that CMEEC gets the message from the public outcry that the derby trips were excessive and indefensible.

    "They made it clear," Sullivan said at the meeting of public reaction to the trips. "We dropped the ball. The time for words has passed. The time for action is at hand. I want to make absolutely certain the work that comes out of this ad hoc committee speaks to the concerns of the many and speaks loudly."

    Day Staff Writer Greg Smith contributed to this report.


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