Business
2:46 pm
Fri December 10, 2010

Former Pedernales Electric Cooperative Manager Guilty Of Felony Theft

A man who once ran Pedernales Electric Cooperative, the largest member-owned electric utility in the country, was found guilty today of charges related to funneling money to his brother and the son of a former PEC director.

A Gillespie County jury of nine women and three men found Bennie Fuelberg was guilty of money laundering between $100,000 and $200,000, misapplication of fiduciary duty in excess of $200,000, and theft of property in excess of $200,000.

KXAN reports that Fuelberg took the stand during his trial and said he regretted not notifying the board that he hired his brother, a lobbyist.

During closing arguments Fuelberg's attorney, Chris Gunter, told the jury, "That's why we're here, because it looks bad. It looks bad to hire your brother, but looking bad ladies and gentleman, does not make it against the law."

Bennie Fuelberg said he called Walter Demond, PEC's top outside lawyer, and suggested that Clark Thomas hire his brother, with the co-op putting up $5,000 a month to pay for it. Bennie Fuelberg said he did not tell Demond to make the hire.

The Statesman has covered this story extensively and produced this timeline last month showing some of the more controversial events in PEC's history. It all began back in 2007.

May 2007:A small group of Pedernales Electric Cooperative members files suit challenging the board of directors' salaries and seeking payouts of capital credits (member dividends) and more openness in the co-op's operations.

November 2007:Testimony in the lawsuit reveals financial matters unknown to co-op members, including a $2 million deferred compensation plan for General Manager Bennie Fuelberg. Board President W.W. ‘Bud' Burnett, Fuelberg and Assistant General Manager Will Dahmann say they will resign.

December 2007:More testimony details Fuelberg's control of Pedernales and directors' scant oversight of co-op affairs.

January 2008:Pedernales becomes the subject of a preliminary criminal investigation by the district attorney for the area that includes Johnson City, where the co-op has its headquarters.

February 2008:Fuelberg steps down; Austin Energy chief Juan Garza takes over as general manager. The Texas attorney general's office enters the criminal investigation of the co-op

Read the rest of the timeline here.