Groton City mayor responds to CMEEC indictments

Groton — City Mayor Keith Hedrick issued a statement Tuesday in response to last week’s indictments of five Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative officials on federal charges, including a former Groton utilities commission member, stating city officials have taken “appropriate action” since the controversy became public in October 2016.

Hedrick, who was not in office at the time, said both the city and Groton Utilities “have taken appropriate actions to address and enforce the municipal ethics issues raised and to ensure that such practices cannot occur in the future.” Groton Utilities is one of six Connecticut municipal utilities that co-own CMEEC, including Bozrah Light & Power, owned by Groton Utilities.

Former Groton Utilities Commission member Edward DeMuzzio was among the five CMEEC officials indicted last week on public corruption charges in connection with lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby and to The Greenbrier luxury golf resort in West Virginia. Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda, CMEEC CEO Drew Rankin, CMEEC Chief Financial Officer Edward Pryor and former CMEEC board chairman James Sullivan of Norwich all were charged with one count each of conspiracy and three counts of theft from a program receiving federal funds.

Hedrick, who chairs the Groton Utilities Commission and is a commission alternate on the CMEEC Board of Directors, said he informed other commissioners last week when the indictments were handed down, and said all public comments regarding the indictments would come from his office.

“And that’s all we have,” Hedrick said Tuesday. “At this point, the city and the utilities commission are not listed on the indictment. The indictment is about five specific people.” After holding two emergency meetings Thursday and Friday, the CMEEC board placed Rankin and Pryor on unpaid leave and removed Bilda from the board of directors.

The Groton Utilities Commission will hold its regular meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Groton City Hall. Hedrick said he plans to read the full statement at the meeting.

“We have also fully cooperated with all other governmental agencies charged with investigating CMEEC, its personnel and their conduct,” the statement said. “As the majority municipal owner of CMEEC, with the benefit of new representation, we remain vigilant in supervising both its ongoing business activities and its compliance with all applicable business standards.”

In an initial response to the public outcry over the Kentucky Derby trips, the utilities commission replaced DeMuzzio on the CMEEC board. DeMuzzio resigned from the Groton Utilities Commission in September 2017 after the Groton City Ethics Commission found the Groton Kentucky Derby trip participants were in violation of the city’s ethics code.

Hedrick said neither Groton City nor Groton Utilities is paying for DeMuzzio’s legal bills in the federal criminal proceedings.

DeMuzzio, who served as CMEEC board secretary and was a member of the CMEEC board’s compensation committee, was cited in the lengthy indictment as one of four of the alleged co-conspirators who attended a separate, private trip to the West Virginia resort in August 2015, costing $21,447 to check out the location for a possible board retreat.

According to the indictment, Rankin sent an email to Bilda, Sullivan and DeMuzzio on July 9, 2015 proposing that the four of them take a trip to the West Virginia resort in August to “evaluate the location” for a potential CMEEC strategic retreat.

After Rankin made the reservations for the four, Sullivan allegedly sent an email to Rankin and the other two participants: “Is your name ‘I deserve a raise?’” The expenses for the trip were approved by Rankin as compensation committee expenses.

The CMEEC board, along with top staff and invited guests attended a “member delegation strategic retreat” at the golf resort in October 2015 without prior approval by the board of directors. During the trip, participants purchased 17 luxury scarves for $2,264.57 from the resort “ladies shop,” and Rankin approved the purchases. “The scarves were paid for with Member Towns’ funds in the CMEEC Margin account,” the indictment said. The entire $58,724 of the golf resort trip also was charged to the Margin account, the indictment said.

On Feb. 25, 2016, Bilda made a motion at a CMEEC meeting to modify Rankin’s compensation package retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016. The motion was seconded by DeMuzzio and “increased Rankin’s overall compensation,” the indictment said.

DeMuzzio was the lone Groton Utilities official charged in the federal indictments. He attended the trips in 2013, 2014 and 2016. According to lists provided by CMEEC to The Day in 2016 — lists the indictment stated were misleading and incomplete — Groton Utilities and Bozrah Light & Power Director of Utilities Ron Gaudet and Paula Gaudet attended just Friday activities in May 2016. David Collard, general manager of utility finance, attended the derby trips in 2015 and 2016, along with Theresa Collard.

Former Groton City Mayor Dennis Popp and Karen Popp also attended the derby trip in 2016.

c.bessette@theday.com

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