"Tiny" company tied to Trump donor given $300m Puerto Rico contract

“Tiny” company tied to Trump donor given Massive $300m Puerto Rico recovery contract

Why on earth would a small utility company be charged with restoring power to the entire island of Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico’s power grid was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Right now, 80 percent of the island is still without power. So, how is this being remedied? By awarding the contract to get things back up and running to a company with only two full time employees.

Seriously, how on earth does a tiny utility company end up getting the job of restoring power to the entire island of Puerto Rico? The answer appears to be a classic case of greased palms.

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As The Daily Beast points out, the task of rebuilding Puerto Rico’s power grid has been awarded to Whitefish Energy Holdings, which just happens to be primarily financed by a private-equity firm headed by Joe Colonnetta, who has made some big time donations to Trump.

According to the Washington Post, Whitefish was awarded a $300 million contract by Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. This is the biggest contract awarded yet in the quest to rebuild the island. But it has left some, including Susan Tierney, a former senior official for the Energy Department, rather perplexed.

“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. I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”

Generally, in situations like this, public utility companies will make alliances with other public utility companies through “mutual aid” agreements. This is being done to restore other services in Puerto Rico. But, for power, it was decided to go with this small company. So, yes indeed, that raises some red flags.

How much does one have to donate in order to get such a huge contract? Well, Daily Beast went to the Federal Elections Commission to find out.

“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.”

That’s a substantial investment, and it appears to have paid off for Colonnetta and Whitefish, as the New York Daily News points out. Why else would a company whose largest contract up until now was to replace 5 miles of transmission lines in Arizona get a contract to restore power to a hurricane ravaged island with a land area roughly twice the size of Delaware, and roughly the same population as the entire state of Arizona or Oregon?

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What is also interesting is the fact that Whitefish Energy Holdings just happens to be based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown. And Zinke knows the owner, Andy Techmanski, who even gave Zinke’s son a job. Coincidence? Possibly. But a very interesting coincidence indeed.

For it’s part, Whitefish has subcontracted at least 280 linesman from across the country and has been adding up to 20 more each day to tackle the huge task of trying to hit Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s goal of getting power back for 95 percent of his citizens by Christmas.

And so, it would appear, cronyism is business as usual for the “Art of the Deal” President’s administration. Yes, these days, it seems, it pays to get on the good side of Donald Trump, and his cronies. Especially in the form of campaign donations. And if American citizens are suffering in the wake of a natural disaster, hiring “the best people” seems to mean giving the job to whoever is closest to the Trump family and the Trump administration, in a position to cash in on it.

Feature image by Mario Tama/Getty Images

 

 

Chris Hearn is an ageing freelance writer located in wintery Winnipeg. He is a stay-at-home-parent, amateur stand-up comedian, and a guy with a lot of opinions, much to everyone’s dismay.