WASHINGTON – An investigation by the Daily Beast revealed on Tuesday that a large donor to President Donald Trump is linked with one of the firms hired to reestablish Puerto Rico’s electricity service, which was decimated by Hurricane Maria last month.
The report makes reference to the $300 million contract signed by Whitefish Energy Holdings to work on repairing and rebuilding the island’s electricity infrastructure, the small firm said in a statement released Oct. 19 on its Facebook page.
The controversy erupted because the firm – which had only two full-time employees when Maria hit the island – is financed by HBC Investments, an investment fund founded and headed by Joe Colonetta, who donated thousands of dollars to Trump’s election campaign.
According to the online daily, Colonetta contributed $20,000 to the Trump Victory Political Action Committee, or PAC, along with $2,700 to Trump’s campaign during the Republican primaries and another $2,700 during the subsequent 2016 presidential campaign. In addition, he contributed a total of $30,700 to the Republican National Committee in 2016.
In addition, The Washington Post reported that a second link between the electricity company and the Republican Party exists, given that its CEO, Andy Techmanski, is a friend of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is from the state where the firm is based: Montana.
Several members of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives have called for a review of the contract.
“Whitefish seems to be nothing more than a glorified middleman to get the real providers of the services, with which PREPA (the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority) could have contracted directly,” Puerto Rican lawmaker Luis Vega-Ramos said. “It is a cozy sweetheart deal in which Whitefish gets a gratuity for subcontracting the actual providers.”
“It is reprehensible that shameless profiteering is going on literally on the back of the devastated people of Puerto Rico. It is beyond contempt and people should answer for it,” said Vega-Ramos.
Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello announced on Tuesday that he had ordered the contracts of the state-run Electric Power Authority to be reviewed after the controversy over the deal favoring Whitefish.
Rossello said in a statement that all contracting procedures will be reviewed, noting that the island’s government already has a specific mechanism for doing this and adding that he has ordered any information gleaned from the review to be forwarded to the Puerto Rico Comptroller.
Trump has repeatedly criticized the island’s electric grid, saying that it was already in terrible shape before the storm because of poor maintenance by the local authorities.