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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Sullivan sentenced to 6 months in prison for lavish 2015 Kentucky Derby, golf trips

    Former Norwich utilities commission chairman James Sullivan was sentenced Wednesday to six months in prison for using the utilities’ money to pay for lavish trips in 2015 to the Kentucky Derby and a West Virginia golf resort.

    Sullivan, 56, the former chairman of the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative board of directors and former chairman of the Norwich utilities commission, is the second of three people this week to be sentenced in New Haven federal court in connection with the trips hosted by CMEEC, a municipally owned utilities cooperative.

    U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer said he weighed many factors in issuing a light sentence of six months in prison and three years of supervised release for Sullivan. Meyer noted Sullivan’s many years of highly respected civic service as a “pillar of the community” in Norwich, including as an elected official, board member on numerous institutions and volunteer service.

    But Meyer told Sullivan, “you lost your way,” when he participated in the use of CMEEC funds meant to be returned to member utilities to stabilize electric rates to instead take the trips for personal benefit.

    Sullivan gave an emotional address to the court, apologizing to his family and to CMEEC, an organization he said he loved and to which he committed 15 years of service as a board member.

    Sullivan said the trips were, “a serious lapse of judgment” that should not define his life. But he said his actions caused irreparable harm to his reputation in the community and have been devastating to his family, especially his four sons, the youngest of whom, 14, lives with him.

    “I did not think about the consequences of my actions,” Sullivan said, “and how they would be perceived.”

    Sullivan was ordered to report to prison on July 12. Meyer imposed no criminal fine, but rulings on restitution payments will be made at a future date not yet scheduled.

    Sulivan’s attorney, Daniel S. Noble, sought a sentence of no prison time, or home confinement, along with community service. Following the sentencing, Noble said he will appeal the case. Sullivan has 14 days to appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

    Sullivan was convicted in December 2021 on one count of theft from a program receiving federal funds for his participation in CMEEC-funded trips in 2015 to the Kentucky Derby and The Greenbrier golf resort in West Virginia.

    Sullivan invited six family members and friends as guests on the Kentucky Derby trip, and he was one of four CMEEC officials who went on a “scouting trip” in August 2015 to The Greenbrier golf resort in West Virginia.

    Sullivan, however, resigned from CMEEC and Norwich boards in September of that year and did not attend a larger CMEEC trip to The Greenbrier that October.

    After hearing contrasting arguments from Noble and prosecutor Michael S. McGarry, Meyer ruled that Sullivan should be held accountable for the entire combined costs of the Kentucky Derby and August 2015 Greenbrier trips, totaling $104,765.

    Meyer repeated the claim used by McGarry that Sullivan was participating in “jointly undertaken criminal activity,” in attributing the funds lost to CMEEC to Sullivan’s actions.

    McGarry stressed that of all the CMEEC officials who attended the 2015 Kentucky Derby trip, Sullivan invited the highest number of guests who had no connections with CMEEC.

    Noble had sought a much lower total of $15,000 for just the trip costs for Sullivan, his family and friends, saying he had no role in organizing the trips, which was done by former CMEEC CEO Drew Rankin.

    The jury convicted Sullivan, Rankin and former Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda on one count each of theft from a program receiving federal funds for the 2015 CMEEC trips. The jury acquitted the three and two other defendants, former Groton Utilities commissioner Edward DeMuzzio and former CMEEC CFO Edward Pryor on conspiracy charges and theft charges stemming from the 2014 Kentucky Derby trip. U.S. prosecutors withdrew charges related to the 2016 trips during the trial.

    Rankin was sentenced Tuesday to 12 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Bilda is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday.

    McGarry argued that Sullivan was in a position of trust as both the CMEEC and Norwich utility chairman and could have objected to the cost of the trips.

    “It’s clear to him that CMEEC money is being spent,” McGrarry said. “It has nothing to do with providing low-cost electricity to people of eastern Connecticut.”

    Noble countered that Sullivan was one of many board members who participated in the trips and did not have an enhanced role in making decisions about what strategic retreats were planned by Rankin.

    During his statement to the court, Sullivan maintained that the trips had legitimate benefit to CMEEC’s operations and repeated claims by Rankin that the four participants in the August 2015 Greenbrier trip discussed CMEEC business for much of the four days of golf outings, dinners and tours.

    Sullivan and Rankin face a second federal indictment charging each with one count of conspiracy and three counts of theft from a program receiving federal funds in allegedly using CMEEC funds to pay for nearly $100,000 of Sullivan’s personal expenses and travel costs from 2013 through 2015. That case is on hold, pending resolution of the current proceedings.

    Meyer said Wednesday he would look into expediting that case to ensure that Sullivan and Rankin receive a speedy trial.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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