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Federal trial on Kentucky Derby trips delayed again due to COVID-19

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The continuing COVID-19 pandemic is forcing postponement again of the criminal trial of five former utility cooperative officials involved in controversial trips to the Kentucky Derby, possibly until fall, according to court documents filed in federal court in New Haven.

The trial of the former Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative officials had been set to begin in early April with jury selection, but last week, the court ordered all trials scheduled to begin prior to May 3 to be postponed due to the difficulty in holding jury selection and trials in crowded courtrooms during the pandemic. The court asked federal attorneys and defense attorneys for all five defendants to confer and propose a new schedule.

In a joint motion filed Thursday, the attorneys mutually agreed to propose that jury selection begin Nov. 1, and trial evidence begin at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 4. The attorneys estimated the trial will take two to three weeks.

Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer has not yet ruled on the proposed schedule.

CMEEC hosted trips to the Kentucky Derby called board retreats from 2013 through 2016 for top staff, board members, family and dozens of invited guests. Two trips were taken to The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, and CMEEC made unrefunded deposits for a 2017 Kentucky Derby trip that was canceled.

Former CMEEC CEO Drew Rankin; former CMEEC Chief Financial Officer Edward Pryor; former Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda, the former CMEEC board vice chairman; former board Chairman James Sullivan of Norwich and former board Treasurer Edward DeMuzzio of Groton were indicted in November 2018 and face charges conspiracy and theft from a program receiving federal funds.

CMEEC itself is not a party to the criminal trial but has been involved throughout the pre-trial court proceedings in producing extensive documents and responding to attorneys’ inquiries.

CMEEC also is footing the more than $3.4 million in legal bills for all five defendants since the federal investigation was launched in November 2016, since the allegations stem from time periods when the defendants were active staff or board members.

In the motion seeking to delay the trial, CMEEC again asked the court to consider the additional financial burden on ratepayers that would occur with a lengthy continuance because of additional legal fees.

Separate from the criminal trial, CMEEC has filed a federal lawsuit against its liability insurance company, the National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, challenging the insurance firm’s refusal to pay the legal costs despite the cooperative’s liability insurance policy for board members and staff. That case also is pending, with CMEEC having requested a summary judgment and had hoped to resolve the insurance dispute prior to the start of the criminal trial.


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