Ohio AG seeks to add former executives, regulator to lawsuit

CLEVELAND (AP) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Thursday asked a judge in Columbus to add two former FirstEnergy Corp. executives and the former chair of the Ohio utilities commission as defendants in a state racketeering lawsuit for their alleged roles in helping win passage of a tainted energy bill in 2019.

Former CEO Chuck Jones and former Senior Vice President Michael Dowling were fired by FirstEnergy in October for violating company policies and its code of conduct.

Sam Randazzo, former chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, resigned in November after FBI agents searched his Columbus townhome and FirstEnergy revealed in securities documents that top executives had paid him $4.3 million for his future help at the commission.

The three men are accused in the lawsuit of conspiring to win a $1 billion legislative bailout of two nuclear power plants — operated by a wholly owned FirstEnergy subsidiary at the time. They also are accused of working together to include in the bill an annual revenue guarantee for the company potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The amended lawsuit asks for Randazzo to forfeit the $4.3 million and repay the salary he collected as utilities commission chair from April 2019 through November 2020.

The Attorney General’s Office in a filing said the three men were added to the complaint because of new public information, including FirstEnergy’s admission of wrongdoing last month in a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors.

The admission, called a statement of facts, “details the direct relationship and coordination” between the three men and former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder to help FirstEnergy, according to Yost and his attorneys.

“This is the justice system working, holding bad actors accountable,” Yost said in a statement Thursday. “To restore public trust, everyone involved in this sordid matter needs to pay a price. The goal is to leave no doubt – among politicians, the powerful and the rich – that engaging in public corruption will ruin you.”

FirstEnergy agreed to pay $230 million in penalties and adhere to a long list of reform-minded provisions to avoid criminal prosecution. Current CEO and President Steven Strah signed a statement admitting to the company’s role in secretly funding a $60 million bribery scheme.

In the original complaint filed by Yost’s office, Cincinnati and Columbus last year sought to stop the new owners of two Ohio nuclear power plants, Energy Harbor, from collecting the bailout. The Legislature repealed that portion of the energy bill in March after Energy Harbor — which in early 2020 took ownership of the plants and other FirstEnergy assets in a U.S. Bankruptcy Court deal — indicated it did not want the $150 million-a-year subsidy.

Yost announced in February that his office had reached a settlement with FirstEnergy to stop the utility’s three Ohio electric companies from receiving the revenue guarantee. FirstEnergy then said it would return $26 million to customers.

Randazzo’s attorney, Roger Sugarman, declined to comment. Messages seeking comment were left on Thursday with attorneys for Jones and Dowling. None of the men have been charged criminally. Jones and Randazzo have denied wrongdoing.

A Common Pleas judge in Columbus has placed the lawsuit on hold as criminal cases work through federal court. Householder and four associates were indicted last July on federal racketeering charges.

Householder, a Republican, and lobbyist Matt Borges have pleaded not guilty. Householder adviser Jeffrey Longstreth, lobbyist Juan Cespedes and a dark money group used by FirstEnergy and the group to fund the bribery scheme have entered guilty pleas and await sentencing. The remaining defendant, Neil Clark, died by suicide in March.

Householder was removed as speaker in July 2020 following his arrest and indictment. He was expelled from the House in June.