Log In

Reset Password
  • MENU
    Local News
    Thursday, March 23, 2023

    Federal judge refuses to overturn guilty verdicts involving CMEEC trips to Kentucky Derby, golf resort

    A U.S. District judge in New Haven on Friday denied motions for acquittal, for a new trial and to release grand jury records that were filed by three local utilities officials convicted in December 2021 for their roles in planning trips by dozens of local officials and guests to the Kentucky Derby and a West Virginia golf resort.

    In a 70-page ruling issued Friday, Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer denied multiple motions filed over the past year by former Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative Executive Director Drew Rankin, former Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda and former Norwich utilities commission chairman James Sullivan.

    The three were convicted on one count each of theft from a program that receives federal funding. Two other defendants, former Groton Utilities commissioner Edward DeMuzzio and former CMEEC CFO Edward Pryor were found not guilty on charges of conspiracy and theft. Rankin, Sullivan and Bilda also were cleared on conspiracy charges and theft charges stemming from the 2014 Kentucky Derby trip.

    The trips, hosted by CMEEC, were held from 2013 through 2016 to the Kentucky Derby, growing in scope and attendees each year, with CMEEC board members, spouses and other family members, vendors and public officials. Attendees in the later years took private jets, purchased lavish gifts and enjoyed dinners costing thousands of dollars. Two trips were taken in 2015 to The Greenbrier golf resort in West Virginia. The indictment covered the 2014-2016 activities.

    Throughout the trial and in post-trial motions, the defendants’ attorneys argued that CMEEC, a nonprofit owned by six municipally owned utilities, had authority through state statute to act as a corporation and hold board retreats. The attorneys also argued that the indictment erred in referring to CMEEC’s owners as “member towns,” rather than municipally-owned utilities.

    Collectively, the trips cost $1.2 million and were paid for using CMEEC revenues deposited in a Margin Fund, which holds money meant to be returned to member utilities to stabilize electric rates for customers.

    Friday’s ruling covers denial of motions filed by the three convicted defendants for a judgment of acquittal, for a mistrial and a new trial, to disclose the grand jury records and a motion to dismiss the criminal indictment. Meyer reviewed the history of the case, citing invitations to guests who had nothing to do with CMEEC – including Bilda’s parents, Sullivan’s brother, sister-in-law, bartender and bartender’s friend –as well as lavish spending for dinners, gifts, tours and airfare.

    For each motion, Meyer, who was the trial judge, reviewed the trial evidence and his instructions to the jury. He rejected the defendants’ argument that the evidence failed to prove CMEEC had received more than the threshold $10,000 in federal funding during the relevant period.

    Meyer also rejected the claim that evidence showed the CMEEC board had approved the trips in its budget process. Meyer wrote that evidence showed the board never discussed the trips explicitly and some members were not aware of all the invitees, including family and friends with no connection to CMEEC.

    Meyer focused part of his rejection of the defendants’ clams on the August 2015 trip by only Rankin, Sullivan, Bilda and DeMuzzio to the Greenbrier, costing more than $21,000, allegedly to scout the resort for a future CMEEC retreat.

    “There was no evidence of a post-trip report or presentation to the board about the alleged ‘evaluation’ of the suitability of the Greenbrier for a corporate retreat,” Meyer wrote. “The foursome spent more than $2,000 for just two dinners at the Greenbrier. A reasonable jury could have concluded that these lavish dinner expenses — in conjunction with the focus of the itinerary plans on the Greenbrier’s many golf courses — was indicative that the entire trip was simply a personal vacation and not for any valid corporate purpose.”


    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.