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CMEEC committee recommends extending unpaid leave of CEO, CFO

December 6, 2018

Norwich — With an internal investigation not expected to be completed until late January into indictments of two top officials at the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, the agency’s board is expected to vote Thursday to extend the initial 30-day unpaid leave imposed on the pair.

CEO Drew Rankin and Chief Financial Officer Edward Pryor are facing federal corruption charges of conspiracy and theft from a program receiving federal funds in connection with CMEEC’s hosting of lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby for four years, from 2013 to 2016.

The five-member investigation committee met Wednesday and the four members in attendance voted unanimously to recommend extending the unpaid leave “until the independent investigation has been completed, the Special Committee makes its findings and recommendations, and the CMEEC Board of Directors has acted with respect thereto.”

The CMEEC board hired attorney Eileen Duggan, an employment law specialist, to investigate the findings in the two Nov. 8 federal indictments.

Rankin, Pryor, Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda and two former CMEEC board members, James Sullivan of Norwich and Edward DeMuzzio of Groton, were charged in one federal indictment, while Rankin and Sullivan face similar charges in a second indictment alleging they conspired to reimburse Sullivan for nearly $100,000 in personal expenses using CMEEC funds.

On Nov. 9, one day after the indictments were handed down, the CMEEC board held an emergency meeting and placed Rankin and Pryor on a 30-day unpaid leave to conduct an internal independent investigation into the charges. That period would end Thursday without further action by the CMEEC board.

The full board will hold a special meeting at 3:30 p.m. Thursday to vote on the recommendation from the committee to extend the unpaid leave.

CMEEC officials said they could not comment on whether Pryor would return to the organization at all. He announced in the summer — months before the indictments — that he planned to retire Jan. 1, and he was not included in a list of executive officers approved at the annual board meeting in November. Rankin, however, was listed as CEO at that time.

Rankin’s current employment contract runs through Dec. 31, 2023.

Under a section titled “Termination for Cause,” the contract states that Rankin could be terminated immediately under provisions defined in the contract with written notice. The list of causes for termination includes “any violation by Mr. Rankin of any law or regulation which is materially related to the business of CMEEC; Mr. Rankin’s conviction of a felony, or any perpetuation by Mr. Rankin of a common law fraud; or any other willful misconduct by Mr. Rankin which is injurious to the financial condition or business reputation of, or otherwise injurious to the CMEEC or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates.”

The investigation committee, which will receive Duggan’s report and make recommendations based on her findings, will meet Jan. 23 and expects to deliver its findings to the full CMEEC board “as soon as possible thereafter.”

Following Wednesday’s vote, committee Chairwoman Debora Goldstein of Norwalk gave a prepared statement that called the vote “an important first step” in the work by the committee.

“We are approaching this task with the utmost seriousness so that we can fully understand the facts and make recommendations that are in the best interest of our members, their ratepayers and the customers we serve,” she said in the statement.

c.bessette@theday.com

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