Ex-Ohio utility leader surrenders in $1.3B bailout tied to energy bill
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(NewsNation) — The former leader of Ohio’s utility regulator pleaded not guilty to charges announced Monday in connection with a $60 million bribery scheme related to a legislative bailout for two Ohio nuclear power plants that has already resulted in a 20-year prison sentence for a former state House speaker.

Sam Randazzo, former chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, faces an 11-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on Nov. 29 centered on allegations that he accepted bribes from Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. in exchange for regulatory favors, U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker’s office announced. Randazzo made his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

The indictment is the latest development in what has been labeled the largest corruption case in Ohio history, and while the $1.3 billion bailout was partly repealed after the scandal broke, advocates say the stunning and systemic disdain for utility consumers that was displayed has yet to be addressed with adequate new safeguards.

Randazzo, 74, resigned in November 2020 after FBI agents searched his Columbus townhome and FirstEnergy revealed in security filings what it said were bribery payments of $4.3 million for his future help at the commission a month before Republican Gov. Mike DeWine nominated him as Ohio’s top utility regulator.

He faces one count of conspiring to commit travel act bribery and honest services wire fraud, two counts of travel act bribery, two counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of wire fraud and five counts of making illegal monetary transactions. If convicted as charged, Randazzo could face up to 20 years in prison.

At least five FirstEnergy executives were fired as a result of the scandal. None have been charged.

Randazzo is the sixth individual to be indicted in the scheme.

Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was sentenced in June to 20 years in prison for his role in orchestrating the scheme, and lobbyist Matt Borges, a former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, was sentenced to five years.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Cincinnati indicted three others on racketeering charges in July 2020. Lobbyist Juan Cespedes and Jeffrey Longstreth, a top Householder political strategist, pleaded guilty in October 2020. The third person arrested, statehouse lobbyist Neil Clark, pleaded not guilty before dying by suicide in March 2021. The dark money group used to funnel FirstEnergy money, Generation Now, also pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge in February 2021.

All were accused of using the $60 million in secretly funded FirstEnergy cash to get Householder’s chosen Republican candidates elected to the House in 2018 and then to help him get elected speaker in January 2019. The money was then used to win passage of the tainted energy bill, House Bill 6, and to conduct what authorities have said was a $38 million dirty-tricks campaign to prevent a repeal referendum from reaching the ballot.

For Randazzo’s part, prosecutors allege he took deliberate actions favorable to FirstEnergy. In November 2019, according to the indictment, he included language in a PUCO opinion and order to address a concerning issue FirstEnergy had coming up in 2024.

The charging document further alleges Randazzo received the bribe money through his consulting business, Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio, Inc., and used the business to funnel himself at least $1 million meant for the Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, an association of large industrial energy users that he controlled.

Federal prosecutors allege that Randazzo skimmed portions of settlements he made with companies on behalf of IEU-Ohio off the top and kept them for himself, even at one point allegedly creating a fictitious member of the group to receive payments along with legitimate members.

FirstEnergy admitted to its role in the bribery scheme as part of a July 2021 deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The company agreed to pay $230 million in penalties and to accomplish a long list of reforms within three years in order to avoid being criminally prosecuted on a federal conspiracy charge.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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