CMEEC board fires indicted CEO Drew Rankin

May 9, 2019

The indicted CEO of an energy cooperative at the center of a controversy over lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby was terminated Thursday following a three-hour, closed-door hearing at a hotel conference room in Orange.

Drew Rankin, CEO of the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative since 2011, had been placed on unpaid leave Nov. 9, one day after he was indicted along with four other CMEEC officials on several federal corruption charges connected with their leadership roles in organizing trips to the Kentucky Derby for four years and a 2015 trip to The Greenbrier luxury golf resort in West Virginia.

Following Thursday’s hearing, the CMEEC board voted unanimously without discussion to terminate Rankin’s employment “for cause” and to award him back pay dated to Nov. 9 based on his annual salary of 1.1 million, according to the indictments.

Rankin faces the same four charges in a second indictment that alleges CMEEC reimbursed former board Chairman James Sullivan of Norwich, also charged in both indictments, for nearly 170 million in savings for its members since Rankin took over as chief executive officer in 2011, Raabe wrote. CMEEC’s enabling statute encourages CMEEC to act “in an entrepreneurial manner and grants CMEEC ‘any and all powers that might be exercised by a natural person or private corporation in connection with similar property and affairs,’” Raabe quoted from the statute.

The indictments “second guess CMEEC’s business judgment and to meddle in the affairs of this highly successful, quasi-public entity,” Raabe argued.

Raabe wrote that one indictment alleges that Rankin stole from CMEEC by “openly planning and conducting strategic retreats at the Kentucky Derby and The Greenbrier resort, retreats that CMEEC’s unindicted board members were invited to and knowingly and voluntarily attended and enjoyed (including several of its current Board members).”

Regarding the second indictment, Raabe wrote that long before Rankin became CEO in 2011, Sullivan had traveled on CMEEC business and “consistently received reimbursement” for those expenses.

“CMEEC continued that reimbursement during Mr. Rankin’s tenure and the federal government determined in its misplaced, non-entrepreneurial judgment that the level of reimbursement was inappropriate and it indicted Mr. Rankin.”

Raabe argued that it is essential that Rankin and four co-defendants be given copies of the FBI and IRS materials to review “in their own time and as often as they would like.” Rankin can best assess whether witness statements are true, Raabe wrote.

Dunham countered that there are “significant concerns” about allowing the defendants unfettered access to the huge volume of documents, including the risk that information could be lost, stolen or accessed by unauthorized third parties.

“Such dissemination risks tainting the jury pool, permitting witnesses to tailor their testimony and quoting or misquoting out of context reports that do not purport to be the director words of witnesses,” Durham wrote.