By Franklin D. López
Former United Press International and The Associated Press Journalist
“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies and cuts through to the essence of the evolutionary spirit.” -Gordon Gekko, Wall Street, the movie
He was monitoring the path of hurricane Irma in the Weather Channel web site. It was projected to be a powerful hurricane! For him it meant a possible business opportunity for his struggling company Whitefish Energy Holdings, LLC. The two year old company was aggressively looking for business and Irma’s projected path was full of green dollars signs. He and his business associate knew very powerful people in the Trump administration. The hurricane’s eye wall passed 35 miles North-East of Puerto Rico and partially destroyed the fragile electrical grid of the archipelago of Puerto Rico.
Andy Techmanski, CEO of White Fish Energy called his general partner, Joe Colonnetta and requested his support in getting to meet the Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Power Authority, Ricardo Ramos. Both Colonnetta and Techmanski knew Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke. He was a neighbor of Techmanski in the town of Whitefish, Montana (population 7,000) and Zinke’s son worked for White Fish Energy Holdings as a “flagger” last summer.
Techmanski flew to Puerto Rico after Irma totally destroyed the fragile electrical grid of Puerto Rico and met with the Executive Director of PREPA. It is evident that Secretary Zinke paved the way for Techmanski to meet with PREPA’s Ricardo Ramos. There are reports that indicate that the Secretary of Interior called the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló in order to open the doors to Whitefish CEO. Six day after hurricane Maria destroyed the Puerto Rico power authority grid, Whitefish Energy holding signed a $300 million dollars contract. Shortly after Whitefish signed its contract with PREPA, Techmanski told the NBC affiliate in Montana that he had been in been in touch with the Interior Secretary to “free up resources.”
Joe Colonnetta, Whitefish Energy Holding general partner, was a heavy donor to Donald J. Trump presidential campaign. The Federal Election Commission records shows the following:
Colonnetta contributed $20,000 to the Trump Victory PAC during the general election, $2,700 to Trump’s primary election campaign (then the maximum amount permitted), $2,700 to Trump’s general election campaign (also the maximum), and a total of $30,700 to the Republican National Committee in 2016 alone. Colonnetta’s wife, Kimberly, shortly after Trump’s victory, she gave $33,400.00 to the Republican National Committee, the maximum contribution permitted for party committees in 2016.
After María pulverized Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, Florida Governor, Rick Scott, called governor Ricardo Rossello and offered the assistance of sending brigades that rebuilt the western and central Florida power grid affected by hurricane Irma. This “mutual aid” arrangement, which PREPA subscribed, with other American utilities was ignored by the government of Puerto Rico and instead hired Whitefish Energy Holdings, whose largest contract was $ 1.2 million dollars. Susan F. Tierney, a former Energy Department official told The Washington Post,
“The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why [the utility] would go to Whitefish,” said Susan F. Tierney, a former senior official at the Energy Department and state regulatory agencies. “I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”
There are many questions that the government of Puerto Rico, the Federal Oversight Fiscal Board and PREPA needs to address with absolute transparency:
- Why retain a tiny 2 persons entity based in Whitefish, Montana to be responsible to rebuild the energy infrastructure so vital for Puerto Rico’s reconstruction and recovery?
- Did Secretary Zinke call the Governor of Puerto Rico; the Executive Director of PREPA or any Washington, D.C. intermediary was involved in arranging the meeting for Whitefish CEO? What were the instructions? Did any White House staffer called the governor or PREPA’s Executive Director to assist Whitefish?
- Was the Federal Oversight Fiscal Board involved in approving the $ 300 million contract, signed by PREPA, which is under Artcile 3 (bankruptcy) as mandated by section 203 d2 of the PROMESA law. Are there any minutes or resolutions on this?
- If the answer is yes, did the Federal Oversight Fiscal Board request the approval of Federal Judge Taylor Swain?
- If Governor Rick Scott offered reconstruction of the power grid with assistance under the “mutual aid” agreement of power grids what were the reasons for rejecting it and/or ignoring it?
- Was PREPA’s Board of Directors reviewed the scope and cost of the contract?
The Secretary of Interior has been under fire for alleged violations of ethic laws and misused of public funds. Reports from multiple news outlets including Politico and the Washington Post found that Zinke has used charters three times and a military plane once for official travel during his time as secretary. One of the charters was on a plane owned by an oil executive, costing Interior more than $12,000. It took him from a Las Vegas speech celebrating the city’s new professional hockey team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, to his home in Montana late at night, in advance of a meeting with the Western Governors’ Association the next morning. That hockey team is owned by Bill Foley, the chairman of Fidelity National Financial. Foley donated thousands of dollars to Zinke’s House election campaigns, as have employees of and political committees connected to his company.
It is highly imprudent and questionable putting the reconstruction of Puerto Rico’s energy platform in a tiny company from Whitefish, Montana. The Whitefish contract process has all the ingredients of a mega scandal in the swamp that President Trump promised to drain. Senator Mary Cantwell (D-Washington) and Rep Rob Bishop (R-Utah) have requested congressional investigations. The Federal Bureau of Investigations is also on it. A local Puerto Rican political analyst referring to the contract said, “this does not smell like rotten tomatoes!” After all, \Governor Rossello credibility, trust and political future are on the line. Absolute transparency is the order of the day!