Pioneer electric calls lawsuit ‘misguided,’ ‘false’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 18, 2004

A lawsuit filed against Pioneer Electric Cooperative is misguided and false, according to Terry Wilhite, spokesman for the cooperative.

J. Doyle Fuller, a Montgomery-based attorney, filed suit against the cooperative on Friday on behalf of E. Wendell Phelps, Hoffman Rhyne and Kenneth Stallworth &045; all members of the cooperative. According to Fuller, the suit stemmed from the disappearance of more than $18 million of cooperative members’ funds over the course of a year.

Wilhite, though, called the suit a blatant attempt to mislead cooperative members for the personal gain of a few. &uot;There are absolutely no missing funds,&uot; Wilhite said. &uot;The money they question involves funding the launch of Acme Propane four years ago. We are confident that all allegations contained in this suit are false and will eventually be proven to be so.&uot;

The suit states that Acme is a subsidiary of Pioneer Services Corporation and that the cooperative manages Pioneer Services and Acme. A series of financial transactions beginning in 2001, which includes an agreement to guarantee up to $20 million worth of loans for Pioneer Services, led to the $18 million, the suit states.

Fuller said that he expected a motion to dismiss would be filed against the suit. Wilhite said that in the best interests of protecting the cooperative’s members, it would explore all of its options in responding. &uot;We’re a member-owned cooperative,&uot; Wilhite said. &uot;The plaintiffs are essentially bringing suit against themselves.&uot;

Pioneer Electric Cooperative has been providing service to rural areas of Dallas, Wilcox, Butler and Lowndes Counties since 1937. It serves one of the most sparsely populated areas of Alabama.

Wilhite encouraged members to contact the cooperative’s office with any questions. It can be reached at 1-800-239-3092 or at 875-2223. Members can e-mail the cooperative at info@pioneerelectric.com.Wilhite noted that local members could also drop in at the Dallas County office, located at 4071 Alabama Highway 41, which is just south of South Dallas Industrial Park.