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Whitefish, Candidates for the Scammer Hall of Fame, Billed Puerto Rico More Than 7 Times What They Actually Paid Their Workers: Report

Ramon Espinosa/AP Images
Ramon Espinosa/AP Images

A new report from the New York Times has uncovered the startling gap between what Whitefish Energy, the small energy company that was charged with rebuilding Puerto Rico’s devastated power grid, charged for its workers and what it actually paid.

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The Times spoke to six electrical workers from Kissimmee, Fla., who are currently working on bringing electricity back to the island. They told the paper that they were making $42 an hour, plus overtime. Senior linemen from Lakeland, Fla., said that they were earning $63 an hour, while workers from Jacksonville, Fla., said that they were making up to $100 per hour, earning double time.

But Whitefish Energy, which had won a $300 million contract from the Puerto Rican Power Authority, had billed PREPA $319 an hour for linemen. That’s nearly seven-and-a-half times what the Kissimmee contractors were making and, as the Times notes, 17 times the average salary of a Puerto Rican electric worker.

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A spokesperson for Scamfish Whitefish told the Times that the pumped-up prices reflect the company’s “overhead costs.”

“We have to pay a premium to entice the labor to come to Puerto Rico to work,” Chris Chiames said.

Honestly, truly.

Still the quoted $319 per hour is “far above the norm,” even for emergency work, according to industry experts to which the Times spoke. And as the paper noted, PREPA could easily have just tapped Florida linemen directly itself instead of going through Whitefish to do it.

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The Montana-based energy company is currently under investigation by the FBI to determine if it’s a hotbed of liars, scammers or both. Even though the controversial contract has been withdrawn, Whitefish workers are expected to stay in Puerto Rico and continue to work until the end of the month.

Read more at the New York Times.

Staff writer, The Root.

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DISCUSSION

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The key is somewhere between PREPA and Whitefish. PREPA is bankrupt and has been, so it’s harder to get other utilities to help. OTOH if other organizations won’t get paid, then how does Whitefish expect to collect and pay their contractors? My guess is that the corruption part is assurances that the US Legislature will make a special appropriation down the line so that PREPA doesn’t need to find the money and that, in return, certain parties in PR will be rewarded for going along with the plan.

The amount of billing vs the amount of paying is a smokescreen from the underlying lack of details on how this financing could ever work, even at the lower rates the normal utilities would charge. Who enters a contract with a bankrupt company that has customers who won’t be paying bills on the regular for a year or more?