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    Police-Fire Reports
    Wednesday, December 07, 2022

    Trial of former utility officials delayed to Nov. 22 due to COVID-19 infection

    The criminal trial of five former utility officials in U.S. District Court in New Haven will be delayed until Nov. 22 after one of the defense attorneys contracted COVID-19, court docket records revealed.

    Trial proceedings for Wednesday were abruptly canceled Tuesday night after it was learned the person may have been exposed to COVID-19. Despite the Veterans Day federal holiday Thursday, Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer held a 23-minute telephone conference with prosecution and defense attorneys.

    In a written motion, defense attorneys requested a mistrial "due to the COVID infection of one of the defense counsel ("Counsel A"). This unfortunate development has created scheduling difficulties and larger health concerns that result in the 'manifest necessity' of a mistrial."

    U.S. attorneys prosecuting the case objected and proposed a continuance to Nov. 22, anticipating calling an additional eight witnesses during an expected two-day trial span. No trial sessions are planned for Thanksgiving Day or the next day, and U.S. attorneys stated the trial could run through about Dec. 3.

    Judge Meyer accepted the government's proposed schedule and said the delay did not warrant a mistrial. He rejected defense attorneys' argument that the jury could be prejudiced or blame the defendants for the delay.

    "The trial of this case has been delayed for years now," Meyer wrote in the continuance order, "and the public interest strongly weighs in favor of best efforts to allow the trial to proceed if it is safely possible. It is so ordered."

    In the case, former Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative CEO Drew Rankin, former CMEEC CFO Edward Pryor, former Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda and former CMEEC board members James Sullivan of Norwich and Edward DeMuzzio of Groton face felony charges of conspiracy and theft from a program that receives federal funds.

    The charges stem from annual trips to the Kentucky Derby that CMEEC arranged for dozens of top staff, board members, some family members, local political leaders, vendors and others from 2013 to 2016. Two other trips were to the Greenbrier luxury golf resort in West Virginia. Four of the defendants face four theft charges, while Sullivan faces three charges, as he resigned from his CMEEC and Norwich utility commission positions prior to the 2016 Kentucky Derby trip.

    CMEEC is owned by its member municipal utilities: Norwich Public Utilities, Groton Utilities, Bozrah Light & Power, Jewett City Department of Public Utilities, South Norwalk Electric and Water and Norwalk Third Taxing District. The defendants allegedly used money derived from CMEEC revenues that had been intended to be returned to the member municipalities as rate stabilization funds.

    The defendants argue that the money did not belong to the member municipal utilities, and that CMEEC by state statute was allowed to function as a corporation. The defendants contend the trips were corporate retreats designed to improve working relations among the various board members and succeeded in that goal by greatly improving cooperation among board members, which boosted the cooperative’s revenues.

    The five were indicted in November 2018. The in-person jury trial, which had been postponed twice during the COVID-19 pandemic, started Nov. 1, with court sessions held daily through Nov. 9. Most sessions lasted six or more hours, according to entries in the trial docket.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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