COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has expanded a civil racketeering lawsuit tied to the federal FirstEnergy Corp. public corruption case to include the former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and two fired executives of the Akron, Ohio-based electric utility.
The addition of energy consultant and attorney Sam Randazzo, former FirstEnergy CEO Charles Jones, and Vice President Michael Dowling comes just a few weeks after the utility cut a deal with federal prosecutors where it admitted its role in the scandal and paid a $230 million fine in a deferred prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice.
Yost’s amendment to the civil case charges Randazzo – an appointee to the PUCO chairmanship by Gov. Mike DeWine – and the utility executives engaged in extortion, money laundering, coercion, intimidation, and an attempted coverup by a politically connected group trying to enrich themselves.
“This is the justice system working, holding bad actors accountable,” Yost said in a news release sent out Thursday morning. “To restore public trust, everyone involved in this sordid matter needs to pay a price.”
The price Yost wants Randazzo to pay is the $4.3 million FirstEnergy paid him in the writing of House Bill 6 and a pledge to delay a scheduled 2024 PUCO rate case, as well as repaying the former chairman’s salary during his tenure.
In its July 22 deal with prosecutors, FirstEnergy admitted its role in the bribery scandal allegedly involving then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican, various campaign committees tied to Householder, and other officials in a $60 million scheme to push through the legislation. In the immediate wake of the scandal breaking in July 2020, Householder lost his leadership position. In June 2021, he was expelled from the House.
The House Bill 6 legislation would have had all Ohio electric customers bail out FirstEnergy nuclear power plants in Oak Harbor and Perry close to the Lake Erie shore through the electric bills.
Householder is among those awaiting trial in the federal case. He has maintained his innocence.
In the wake of the FirstEnergy deal with prosecutors, Randazzo also denied wrongdoing.
“I executed my duties as PUCO Chair [sic] conscientiously, lawfully, and mindful of striking the right balance between competing interests,” Randazzo said in the July 22 statement. “At no time prior to or after my appointment to the PUCO was I asked or did I agree to exercise authority as a public official or perform any official action in my capacity as Chair to further FirstEnergy’s legislative, regulatory or other interests.”
At that same time, DeWine denied having any part of or having knowledge of the alleged bribery scheme or any role Randazzao may have played.
“Sam Randazzo was a well-known, subject-matter expert in energy issues.” the DeWine statement read. “If, as stated in the court documents, Sam Randazzo committed acts to improperly benefit FirstEnergy, his motives were not known by me or my staff.”
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Brian Ball is a reporter for The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Send tips to [email protected]