After being found guilty by a Gillespie County jury of third degree theft, money laundering and misapplication of fiduciary property, former PEC manager Bennie Fuelberg was sentenced to a fine of $30,000 and probation, the terms of which will be decided by Judge Dan Mills in January. The panel, made up of nine women and three men, gave Fuelberg a $10,000 fine and 10 years on each of three charges, to be served concurrently, but probated the prison terms in favor of community supervision. Judge Mills will have the option of giving him up to 180 days in jail as a condition of his probation.
Jurors found that Fuelberg was guilty of funneling almost $200,000 in PEC money to his brother Curtis Fuelberg, a lobbyist, and Bill Price, a Lampasas attorney and the son of former board member E.B. Price, through the Austin law firm of Clark, Thomas and Winters from 1996 to 2007.
Under oath, Fuelberg admitted to asking Walter Demond, PEC General Counsel and member of the aforementioned Clark, Thomas and Winters law firm, to hire his brother Curtis and secretly bill PEC $5,000 per month to pay him. He stated that his reason for doing this was to avoid the appearance of nepotism and that he also wanted to maintain a good relationship with Bud Burnett, the PEC Board President at the time. Walter Demond has been indicted on the same charges as Fuelberg.
Bill Price testified that he did not perform any work for PEC from 2003 to 2007, despite receiving $86,000. There was also no documentation presented to show any work that had been done by Curtis Fuelberg for PEC.
Fuelberg’s troubles began with a lawsuit filed by members in May 2007, which led to the revelation of large salaries, excessive expenditures and money-losing ventures at the co-op, under the direction of Fuelberg and with very little oversight by the well-compensated board of directors.
Todd Lester, representative from Navigant Consulting, the firm that handled the subsequent audit of PEC in 2008, testified that Fuelberg earned approximately $6.3 million in pay and benefits from 1998 to 2007. Fuelberg served as CEO and General Manager of PEC from 1976 to 2008. Lester also stated that it was discovered that Fuelberg used $32,000 of PEC’s money to pay for his wife to accompany him on trips. Chris Gunter, defense attorney, argued during his cross-examination that PEC directors also took their wives on business trips with them.
During the sentencing phase, Fuelberg’s wife Jeanie Fuelberg took the witness stand asking for leniency for her husband, stating that he loved PEC and was an honest man. She also told jurors that she was terminally ill, and was suffering from myelofibrosis, a progressive disorder of the bone marrow. She said that she depended on her husband to take her to the M.D. Anderson Clinic in Houston for treatments and is her primary caretaker.
Andy Smith, a Methodist pastor who served at a Dripping Springs church that Fuelberg attended also testified on his behalf, calling him “a great man.” Michael Cave, a longtime friend of the defendant, stated that Fuelberg was a model for others.
Luis Garcia, acting PEC general manager, stated that the Fuelberg situation has caused mistrust of the board by the co-op members. “It’s going to take many years to rebuild that trust.”