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Trial dates set for utility cooperatives indicted in Kentucky Derby trips case

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A federal court judge in New Haven this week confirmed the fall jury selection and trial dates for the five former utility cooperative officials who face conspiracy corruption charges connected to past trips by the cooperative to the Kentucky Derby and to a luxury golf resort in West Virginia.

Following a 37-minute conference with attorneys representing the five former Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative officials, Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer set the jury selection for Oct. 26-29. The trial, scheduled to begin Nov. 1 at 8:30 a.m. at the New Haven federal courthouse, is expected to run through Nov. 23.

In the criminal case, former CMEEC CEO Drew Rankin, former CFO Edward Pryor, former board member and Norwich Public Utilities general manager John Bilda, former CMEEC board Chairman James Sullivan and former board member Edward DeMuzzio face charges of conspiracy and theft from a program that receives federal funds.

CMEEC, a cooperative owned by municipally owned electric utilities in Connecticut, had hosted lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby from 2013 through 2016 and had deposits for a 2017 trip canceled after public outcry. The trips cost an estimated $1.2 million.

The five defendants were indicted Nov. 8 in one criminal case, and Rankin and Sullivan face similar charges in a second case involving allegations that CMEEC paid Sullivan nearly $100,000 in reimbursements for personal expenses.

CMEEC does not face criminal charges as an organization but has been paying the legal defense costs for all five defendants, because the incidents occurred during their time as staff or board members. Combined legal bills have exceeded $3.4 million.

Separately, CMEEC has filed a federal civil lawsuit against its liability insurance company, the National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, challenging the firm’s refusal to pay the legal costs based on CMEEC's policy for board members and staff.

That case was transferred to a new judge, Janet Bond Arterton, on June 14, and no trial date was set. Most of the filings in the civil case are sealed.

c.bessette@theday.com

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