Puerto Rico has agreed to pay a reported $300 million for the restoration of its power grid to a tiny utility company that is primarily financed by a private-equity firm founded and run by a man who contributed large sums of money to President Trump, an investigation conducted by The Daily Beast has found.
Whitefish Energy Holdings, which had a reported staff of only two full-time employees when Hurricane Maria touched down, appears ill-equipped to handle the daunting task of restoring electricity to Puerto Rico’s more than 3 million residents.
Much larger utilities are more commonly used following natural disasters on the scale of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island last month.
The private-equity firm that finances Whitefish, HBC Investments, wasfounded by Joe Colonnetta, who serves as its general partner.
Federal Elections Commission data compiled by The Daily Beast shows 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, is no stranger to Republican politics either; shortly after Trump’s victory, she gave $33,400 to the Republican National Committee, the maximum contribution permitted for party committees in 2016.
Joe Colonnetta is not the only Republican connection to the controversial Whitefish contract. On Monday, The Washington Post reported that Whitefish Chief Executive Officer Andy Techmanski is friends with Trump administration Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Moreover, Whitefish is located in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Monatana.
Luis Vega-Ramos, member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, told The Daily Beast, “Whitefish’s most important expertise or assets seems to have been… 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 governor [of Puerto Rico].”
“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,” Vega-Ramos said. “It is a cozy sweetheart deal in which Whitefish gets a gratuity for subcontracting the actual providers.”
Federal agencies like FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which are ordinarily responsible for evaluating contracts for disaster responses, have attempted to distance themselves from the Whitefish contract. FEMA did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on the contract. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, on the other hand, told The Daily Beast that it “does not comment on contracting decisions made by external organizations that do not involve USACE.”