Network connected in Lehigh County

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Network business activity, and political involvement, aren't isolated to this corner of the state.

In 2005, former Bethlehem Mayor Don Cunningham ran for executive of Lehigh County, north of Philadelphia, getting thousands of dollars from executives at CLT Efficient Technologies Group, a firm co-founded by Charles R. Zappala.

Mr. Zappala paid $652.50 to cater a September 2005 reception for Mr. Cunningham, and in that week his campaign logged checks totaling $3,000 from Troy Geanopulos, $5,000 from Louis Ruscitto, and $5,000 from Mr. Zappala and members of his household, among other donations, according to records downloaded from the Pennsylvania Department of State Web site. Mr. Zappala, Mr. Geanopulos and Mr. Ruscitto were then partners in Carnegie-based CLT, which specialized in improving the energy efficiency of government buildings.

In May 2008, the CLT ownership team swung behind the reelection campaign of Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan. CLT accountant R. Andrew Why put up $1,239 for a fundraising dinner and wrote a campaign contribution check of $3,500. Mr. Zappala, Mr. Geanopulos and Mr. Ruscitto contributed a total of $1,000, according to state records.

"John Callahan has been a friend of mine for a very, very long time," said Mr. Why, in a recent interview. "He is a friend and an outstanding person, a man of outstanding moral character, and values, and fiscal responsibility that you don't always see in an elected official."

During the period, CLT was successfully marketing its services to Bethlehem and Lehigh County.

In 2006, Bethlehem wanted to replace old street lights with more efficient ones, approached three energy savings firms for proposals, and picked CLT based on what Public Works Director Michael Alkhal described as "experience, cost, and what the firms were willing to guarantee in terms of energy savings." CLT's contract paid $379,307, and the city estimated that the investment would pay for itself through electricity bill savings in six years.

In 2008, Lehigh County reviewed proposals from around a half dozen energy efficiency firms to audit its energy use. A selection panel picked CLT based on comparative rankings of their written proposals, followed by oral presentations. Last year Lehigh County awarded to CLT a pact to design and administer a $5.4 million energy efficiency push, starting with county-owned nursing homes.

Lehigh County Director of Services Jan Creedon said the panel process kept out politics. "The decision isn't made by anybody who is a political person," she said. And although the county has been "very happy with CLT," she said, it picked a competitor, Noresco, to manage a subsequent $5.7 million energy savings effort.

Mr. Why said CLT competed with larger companies that hired high-powered representatives, some of whom were also raising money for the same candidates. Noresco, for instance, is represented by Philadelphia law firm Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, which counts as its senior government affairs consultant Herb Vederman, a top aide to Gov. Ed Rendell when he was Philadelphia mayor. Mr. Vederman gave Mr. Callahan's 2005 campaign $1,000, while a colleague of his and the firm political action committee each gave $5,000.

Mr. Why said that his firm was selected not through politics, but through superior pricing and service. "We were a small company that really beat the pants off the competition," said Mr. Why.

Locally, CLT won contracts with the cities of Pittsburgh and Erie, Butler County, and several school districts, including West Mifflin Area. In July of last year, Baltimore-based Constellation Energy bought CLT for $20.8 million.


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