CMEEC board extends unpaid leave for top indicted executives

Norwich — The Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative board voted unanimously Thursday to extend its initial 30-day unpaid leave for the two top officials indicted Nov. 8 on federal corruption charges in connection with lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby.

CMEEC CEO Drew Rankin and Chief Financial Officer Edward Pryor will remain on unpaid leave until an independent investigation ordered by the board of directors is completed. The initial suspension would have ended Friday. 

The extension was recommended Wednesday by the five-member Special Investigation Committee established Nov. 20 to receive the investigation report being done by attorney Eileen Duggan, an employment law specialist. The move was necessary once the committee determined that the investigation would last longer than the initially anticipated 30-day period.

The current schedule has the committee meeting to discuss Duggan’s findings and to discuss recommendations to the full board, including Rankin’s future employment, on Jan. 23 and will make its findings and recommendations available to the full CMEEC board “as promptly as possible thereafter.”

Rankin and Pryor were among five CMEEC officials charged with federal corruption charges of conspiracy and theft from a program receiving federal funds in connection with CMEEC’s hosting of four lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby, from 2013 to 2016, for utility and municipal officials, their family members and guests.

Rankin, Pryor, Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda and two former CMEEC board members, James Sullivan of Norwich and Edward DeMuzzio of Groton, were charged in one federal indictment, while Rankin and Sullivan face similar charges in a second indictment alleging they conspired to reimburse Sullivan for nearly $100,000 in personal expenses using CMEEC funds.

With the suspension extended through December and into January, it’s possible that Pryor would not return to his position regardless of the findings. Pryor announced in summer plans to retire at the end of December. Current interim CEO Mike Lane is listed in CMEEC’s 2019 slate of executive staff as the new chief financial officer for 2019. That same list includes Rankin as CEO.

Rankin’s current employment contract runs through Dec. 31, 2023. A termination clause in the contract lists causes for termination including “any violation by Mr. Rankin of any law or regulation which is materially related to the business of CMEEC; Mr. Rankin’s conviction of a felony, or any perpetuation by Mr. Rankin of a common law fraud; or any other willful misconduct by Mr. Rankin which is injurious to the financial condition or business reputation of, or otherwise injurious to the CMEEC or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates.”

The CMEEC board on Thursday tabled a draft charter that would spell out the authority and procedures for the investigation committee to follow. CMEEC General Counsel Robin Kipnis asked for the delay to allow time to address concerns expressed during an investigation committee meeting Wednesday over a provision that Kipnis — a CMEEC regular staff member — would serve as liaison to Duggan, the independent investigator.

State Municipal Ratepayer Advocate Bill Kowalski said CMEEC employees and board members need to be able to talk directly to Duggan to assure full independence of Duggan’s investigation. Kipnis said she did not anticipate a problem with that arrangement but needed time to address it with Duggan before the board votes on the committee’s charter.

The full CMEEC board is expected to vote on the charter at its regular Dec. 20 meeting.

Following Thursday’s special meeting and vote, Lane issued a statement in a news release regarding the investigation.

“The Board’s advancement of the Special Committee’s recommendations is an important step to enable a thorough, independent review process,” Lane said in the statement. “We are taking this matter extremely seriously and look forward to considering the Special Committee’s findings and recommendations at the conclusion of the investigation.”


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