A small, two-person operation with significant ties to President Donald Trump and members of his cabinet is receiving a multi-million dollar contract to help fix the electrical grid in Puerto Rico.
The Daily Beast reports that Whitefish Energy Holdings, which only has a staff of two full-time employees, is set to receive a $300 million contract to help repair Puerto Rico’s damaged electrical grid in the wake of Hurricane Maria last month.
The company doesn’t appear to have any real expertise in directly handling such a daunting project. Rather, as The Daily Beast suggests, the company will likely serve as a “middleman” of sorts, contracting out other companies to do the real work while receiving a hefty profit in the process.
Besides being cumbersome, the contract awarded to Whitefish Energy Holdings carries with it some serious conflicts of interests. Its general partner, Joe Colonnetta, and his wife, Kimberly Colonnetta, are huge donors to Trump and the Republican Party.
Joe Colonnetta, for instance, gave a total of $25,400 either directly to the Trump campaign or to super PACs seeking to get him elected last year. He also gave more than $30,000 to the Republican National Committee throughout all of 2016. Kimberly Colonnetta gave a similar amount to the RNC after Trump won his election.
Besides monetary connections, Whitefish Energy also has direct political connections with some of Trump’s cabinet secretaries. Ryan Zinke, who heads the Interior Department, is from Whitefish, Montana, where he was formerly a member of Congress. Zinke is also friends with the CEO of Whitefish Energy, Andy Techmanski.
Luis Vega-Ramos, who serves in Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, took issue with the contract being awarded to Whitefish Energy.
“Whitefish’s most important expertise or assets seems to [be] ... having the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, as their former congressman and current ally, and having the wisdom to retain the services of key people close to the [territorial] governor,” he said.
“Whitefish seems to be nothing more than a glorified middleman to get the real providers of the services,” he added, which Puerto Rico “could have contracted directly.”
Susan Tierney, former deputy secretary of Energy under President Barack Obama, agreed that the deal was worth scrutinizing.
“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 Puerto Rico utility board] would go to Whitefish,” she said.
The contract could have been given to a number of other companies with much more experience in these situations. Instead, we get more of the same from the Trump administration: conflicts of interest that will likely be questioned, without any real answers given by his administration in return.
Remember, Trump allegedly put his interests into a “blind trust” before he assumed office, but most economic experts agree that his large corporate empire isn’t truly “blind” as long as he still benefits monetarily from its successes.
Trump’s shady “trust” didn’t pass the sniff test — and neither does this latest project involving Whitefish Energy Holdings. The company will not play a direct role in actually restoring the energy grid in Puerto Rico, but they will receive a huge payout from hiring subcontractors.
And it’s questionable whether the contract they did win could have been achieved at all, had they not been huge supporters of the Republican Party and Trump.
Banner/Thumbnail image credit: Alvin Baez-Hernandez/Reuters