Former FirstEnergy executives, PUCO chairman indicted in HB6 scandal

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) —  Two former FirstEnergy executives and the former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chairman have been indicted on 27 felony violations.

Two former Akron-based FirstEnergy executives, ex-CEO Chuck Jones and ex-senior vice president of external affairs Michael Dowling, and ex-Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chairman Sam Randazzo were indicted for their alleged role in the House Bill 6 scandal, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced Monday morning. This is the second indictment Randazzo was named in.

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“There can be no justice without holding the checkwriters and the masterminds accountable,” Yost said.

The 50-page indictment details the actions that led to it, including text messages, emails and handwritten notes. The indictment said the three men “formed the core of a corrupt enterprise.”

“Charles “Chuck” Jones, Michael Dowling and Sam Randazzo were literally as thick as thieves. Together, they would steal money from FirstEnergy, write legislative provisions worth unearned millions of dollars to FirstEnergy,” the indictment reads.

The men are facing bribery charges, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, and money laundering, among others.

The indictment alleges that Jones and Dowling paid Randazzo $4.3 million, on Jan. 2, 2019, for his “consulting services,” to “write parts of a law that would send millions of dollars in subsidies to FirstEnergy.” That payment was paid less than three months after HB6 went into effect on Oct. 22, 2019.

“It was not a gift: Randazzo would work hard for FirstEnergy from inside the government,” the indictment said.

“He was paid by the taxpayers and was supposed to work for you,” Yost said. “But instead, he worked for them as their agent, their lobbyist, their ally.”

“The money was paid for a purpose,” Deputy Attorney General for Law Enforcement Carol O’Brien said. “To influence mister Randazzo in the exercise of his duties as chair of the PUCO.”

The $4.3 million payment to Randazzo was admitted to by FirstEnergy, as part of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, as part of a conspiracy “to defraud the public of its right to the honest services of a public official through bribery or kickbacks.”

“The crimes committed by these individuals impacted the pocketbooks of every hard-working Ohioan,” Summit County Sheriff Kandy Fatheree said.

“Severe legal consequences and public loathing are the just outcomes of such betrayal,” Yost said. “Power is inherently seductive and coercive. It attracts advantage seekers and their money as surely as flies swarm a carcass in a sweltering sun.”

The indictment also said Randazzo was not the only to profit from the deal. The FirstEnergy Stock rose from $28.83 to $50.47 in less than three years, between 2017 and 2020, when HB6 became law.

In the indictment, texts are seen on Nov. 22, 2019, where Jones texted Randazzo a screenshot of FirstEnergy’s stock price and thanked him. “My mom taught me to say Thank You,” Jones wrote.

About one year ago, the corruption trial began against former speaker of the Ohio House Larry Householder, which ultimately landed him in prison for 20 years.

Householder was convicted on federal racketeering charges for accepting a $60 million bribe from Akron-based FirstEnergy to pass House Bill 6, which was signed into law in 2019. Since then, parts of the legislation directly related to the scandal have been repealed, but other portions that are costing energy ratepayers still stand.

Jones and Dowling were identified as the two senior executives who “devised and orchestrated FirstEnergy’s payments to public officials,” according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

HB6, in part, gave two Ohio Valley Electric Corporation coal plants a consistent stream of revenue, from Ohioans. The law, which is still on the books, guarantees a constant stream of revenue and caps the amount of money electric companies can charge ratepayers for the subsidies.

There were two coal plants benefiting from the money, one in Ohio and one in Indiana. The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel tracks the amount Ohioans have paid since January 2020; it is more than $225 million to date. The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association estimates that amount will grow to $850 million by 2030 if the law is not repealed.

The energy scandal has divided members of the Ohio Republican party; some think the law should stand, and others are calling for a repeal.

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