Former Prepa Officer Testifies Fuel Met Standards
SAN JUAN – The former chief of the Fuel Procurement Office at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) for 18 years, William Clark, rejected Tuesday the existence of an oil cartel as alleged in a class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
Prepa was sued in federal court in a civil lawsuit contending it overbilled clients since 2002 by more than $1 billion.
Clark told a Senate committee investigating irregularities in fuel purchases that during the time he was at the helm of the Fuel Procurement Office, he followed the rules and regulations and applicable laws having to do with the administration and operations of the public utility, “diligently, accepting criticism, changes, new systems and avoiding situations of potential conflicts.”
The former official’s name made headlines when a few years ago, it was revealed in a TV report that his retirement party was allegedly paid for by utility contractors.
“While I participated in multiple transactions with supplier laboratories and inspectors and staff in oil purchases, I don’t know anything about the supposed existence of a cartel related to this operation in Puerto Rico, much less an oil cartel that has been mentioned in a federal lawsuit that I understand is vicious, frivolous and lacking any sense….,” he said.
The analysis of the quality of the oil purchased by Prepa was not his responsibility, and he did not participate in the decision to close Prepa’s laboratory and hire private labs to analyze the fuel’s quality, Clark said. He added that it was a decision made by the environmental protection division of Prepa’s office.
He said that while he did have contacts with the private laboratories as part of his job, he “never received gifts, money, bribes nor trips or parties from a laboratory to change or influence or vary a result.”
The Senate is investigating allegations that Prepa bought oil that contained high levels of sulphur and that while one laboratory said the level was unacceptable, another said it was not in compliance.
He explained that the difference in the results of the different laboratories varied because of the repetition of the analysis, but that those differences fell within acceptable margins of error established by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), which is used by the utility. “The results vary within the permitted margins,” he said.
The ASTM method allowed for differences in the error margins of sulphur levels of four-hundredths of a percent.
“The cases that have been presented here [at the hearings] regarding the different results obtained by the laboratories showed differences of two-hundredths of a percent,” he said.
“With all due respect to this committee, the failure to recognize the differences in the error margins in the methods is the cause of this controversy,” he said.
Clark also denied having forced the dismantling of a committee that conducted an audit on the oil purchases. “I commented on the final version of the report that I got in 2011,” he said, adding that his only remarks against the committee were made because he did not want the audit to interrupt the office’s work.
He also denied engaging in an alleged conspiracy with the different oil suppliers to hike up the prices of oil purchased by Prepa.
“I have heard of a monumental fraud at Prepa in oil purchases…. I do not know or heard or participated in any of that. All oil purchases were done through a bidding process,” he said.