Prospective jurors in the upcoming federal corruption trial of five former Connecticut Municipal Energy Cooperative officials will be asked several case-specific questions during the jury selection process, according to court documents.
Jury selection in the case is set to run from Oct. 26 to 29 in U.S. District Court in New Haven with an anticipated trial start date of Nov. 1. The trial is expected to last through Nov. 23, according to a court document from a June 21 status conference.
In addition to typical questions asked of potential jurors during the voir dire winnowing process, including knowledge of the case, experience with law enforcement and ability to follow a judge’s instructions, individuals called to serve will be asked whether they have read or heard anything about the high-profile case.
In addition, jury pool members will be queried on whether they are customers of the public power utility, which according to CMEEC’s website, provides electricity to roughly “70,000 residential, commercial/industrial and small business customers located across the state.”
CMEEC’s coverage area includes all or parts of Norwich, Groton, Norwalk, Jewett City, Bozrah, Gilman, Lebanon, Franklin, Montville and Salem. The voir dire question asks if any of the potential jurors has either lived in, or paid for, electrical services in one of those municipalities.
The jury panel will also be asked about any accounting/bookkeeping experience, which is likely to play an outsized role in the proceedings.
“For many of the questions below, in the event of an affirmative response, the Court is likely to follow up with such jurors at side bar if there is a significant concern that a juror’s answer could taint the views of other jurors,” the voir dire document states.
Former Chief Executive Officer Drew Rankin; former Chief Financial Officer Edward Pryor; former Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda; former CMEEC board Chairman James Sullivan of Norwich; and former board member Edward DeMuzzio all face corruption charges after 2018 indictments.
The defendants, all free, each face three charges of conspiracy and theft from a program receiving federal funds for their alleged roles in planning trips to the Kentucky Derby and a West Virginia golf resort. Sullivan and Rankin also face the same charges in a second indictment alleging the utility covered roughly $100,000 in personal expenses for Sullivan.
The indictments were the result of an FBI investigation that started after The Bulletin first reported in October 2016 of CMEEC members, families and guests going on lavish Kentucky Derby trips over four years and two luxury golfing trips in West Virginia in 2015, which combined cost approximately $1.2 million.
Though the cooperative is not a party in the criminal case, it has spent, as of April 2020, about $3.7 million in legal fees for the defendants.
According to the indictment, the five men joined in a “criminal conspiracy from 2014 to 2017 to conduct the business and affairs of CMEEC for their personal, pecuniary and financial benefit” and that of trip guests. The indictment alleges the outings did not relate to CMEEC business.
COVID-19 concerns led to two previous postponements in jury selection.
John Penney can be reached at [email protected] or at (860) 857-6965