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Congressman Luis Gutierrez

Representing the 4th District of Illinois

In Floor Speech, Gutiérrez Raises Questions about $300 Million Whitefish Energy Deal, Reiterates Calls For Investigation

October 25, 2017
Press Release
“The last thing the people need right now is a fat cat lining his pockets with money because they are well-connected when that money should be saving lives.”
Issues: 

Washington, DC – Yesterday, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) wrote to the Attorney General and the FBI Director asking them to investigate the circumstances around the awarding of a $300 million contract to an obscure Montana firm with close ties to President Trump’s campaign for rebuilding the electrical grid in hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico (press release: http://bit.ly/2y4mdC6/ letter: http://bit.ly/2gIkEqR pdf ). 

Today, Rep. Gutiérrez spoke on the House floor outlining why he feels the deal with Whitefish Energy appears to be “fishy.”

“So what is going on here?” Rep. Gutiérrez said on the House floor.  “A tiny company that does not have a track record gets one of the biggest contracts to help rebuild Puerto Rico in a no-bid, out of the ordinary contracting procedure?”

He continued:

This is why I wrote a letter yesterday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray, because I want them to investigate this deal, how it was awarded, why this company got the contract, and whether there is any evidence of it being a sweetheart deal or corruption to boost business allies and political allies of the President and his Cabinet.

Whitefish is based in Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and a town in which “everyone knows everybody,” according to an Interior spokesman.

The company is less than two years old and had only two employees just six weeks ago.  The Congressman said:

Go a little deeper and you find that Whitefish is financed by HBC Investments, which is a private equity firm founded by Joe Colonnetta, who holds the title of general partner.  The Daily Beast reported that Colonnetta gave $20,000 to the Trump Victory PAC and maxed out on contributions to Trump during the primaries and the general election, about $32,000 total and another $30,000 to the Republican National Committee.    Kimberly Colonnetta, his wife, was also a maximum donor – meaning she gave the maximum amount allowed by law during the 2016 elections to Trump and his various committees.

The Congressman had pictures from Facebook and the Internet showing Mr. and Mrs. Colonnetta with the President, with HUD Secretary Ben Carson and at the President’s Inauguration. 

The Congressman concluded:

Now, I know that not everything that looks like corruption is in fact corruption.  Sometimes what looks fishy on the surface turns out to be legit, but a lot of times, you know what?  It turns out to be fishy.  And the reason this matters so much is that without electricity, we cannot get water to the people of Puerto Rico…

Without electricity, we cannot get Puerto Ricans back to work rebuilding their island.  The last thing the people need right now is a fat cat lining his pockets with money because they are well-connected when that money should be saving lives.  For Puerto Ricans, this is a matter of life and death.  That’s why I asked the FBI and the Attorney General to investigate.

Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune published an op-ed the Congressman wrote about his most recent trip to Puerto Rico: “Gutiérrez: Puerto Ricans need help evacuating hurricane-ravaged island,” http://trib.in/2z3E013.  He also spoke on the House floor yesterday about what he saw while delivering food and supplies to various towns on the island hit hard by the hurricane (text and video: http://bit.ly/2zMZz3e).

Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez is a Member of the Judiciary Committee and the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.  He was born in Chicago, but has lived in Puerto Rico at various points in his life.  He was in Puerto Rico this past weekend.

A video of the Congressman’s speech today is here: https://youtu.be/1fAf2VV2WRI

The text as prepared for delivery is here:

Floor Speech

October 25, 2017

There is something fishy about the Whitefish Energy deal that was reported in the Washington Post.

Whitefish, based in Whitefish, Montana, was awarded a $300 million contract to repair and replace the electrical grid in Puerto Rico.

We learned that the company is two years old and as of about six weeks ago, it had just two employees.

It does not have a track record of working on massive projects – certainly not one as massive as rebuilding the power grid in Puerto Rico after a once-in-a-century storm like Hurricane Maria.

The Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, did not solicit bids for this contract.

They did not do what most power utilities do under these circumstances, which is to rely on mutual assistance relationships with other power companies.  In Florida and Texas – and in Illinois, for that matter – after a big storm, power companies from around the country send linemen and other workers in to assist the local company, but that is not happening here. 

The Florida power company, FPL, brought in 20,000 workers after Irma and, apparently, was willing to send workers to help Puerto Rico, but the request never came.

So what is going on here?

A tiny company that does not have a track record gets one of the biggest contracts to help rebuild Puerto Rico in a no-bid, out of the ordinary contracting procedure…

This is why I wrote a letter yesterday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray, because I want them to investigate this deal, how it was awarded, why this company got the contract, and whether there is any evidence of it being a sweetheart deal or corruption to boost business allies and political allies of the President and his Cabinet.. 

I also plan to bring up this issue with the oversight committees in this body.

On the surface, the Whitefish deal looks fishy, but when you look a little deeper, the Whitefish deal looks even fishier.

Whitefish Energy is based in Whitefish, Montana.  That’s the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who used to represent Montana in this body. His son even worked for them briefly at one point.

The Chief Executive of Whitefish, Andy Techmanski, knows Secretary Zinke, but as a spokesman for the Interior Department said to the Washington Post, in Whitefish [quote] “everyone knows everybody.”

That does not make me feel better.

Go a little deeper and you find that Whitefish is financed by HBC Investments, which is a private equity firm founded by Joe Colonnetta, who holds the title of general partner.

The Daily Beast reported that Colonnetta gave $20,000 to the Trump Victory PAC and maxed out on contributions to Trump during the primaries and the general election, about $32,000 total and another $30,000 to the Republican National Committee. 

Kimberly Colonnetta, his wife, was also a maximum donor – meaning she gave the maximum amount allowed by law during the 2016 elections to Trump and his various committees.

And the pictures on the Internet certainly add additional evidence to the idea that Whitefish and the Colonnetta’s are pretty chummy with our President and his Cabinet.

Here is Mr. Colonnetta with the President, the two Colonnetta’s at the inauguration, and a picture of Mrs. Colonnetta with Dr. Ben Carson, the President’s Secretary of HUD.

Don’t forget, all you kids watching at home on C-SPAN, what you post on Facebook is there forever.

Now, I know that not everything that looks like corruption is in fact corruption.  Sometimes what looks fishy on the surface turns out to be legit, but a lot of times, you know what?  It turns out to be fishy.

And the reason this matters so much is that without electricity, we cannot get water to the people of Puerto Rico.

Water does not flow uphill without pumps and those pumps need power. 

Dialysis machines, electric wheelchairs, refrigeration for baby formula – all of that requires electricity.

I was just there and I saw the suffering of the people in the villages and towns across Puerto Rico.

Without electricity, we cannot get Puerto Ricans back to work rebuilding their island.

The last thing the people need right now is a fat cat lining his pockets with money because they are well-connected when that money should be saving lives. 

For Puerto Ricans, this is a matter of life and death.

That’s why I asked the FBI and the Attorney General to investigate.

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Whitefish energy Puerto Rico Donald Trump Luis Gutierrez Joe Kimberly Colonnetta Ryan Zinke Ben Carson HUD Interior PREPA