Former FirstEnergy officials, Ohio regulator face state charges in bribery scheme

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two fired FirstEnergy Corp. executives were indicted Monday in the long-running investigation into a $60 million bribery scheme in Ohio that has already resulted in a 20-year prison sentence for a former state House speaker.

Former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones and former Senior Vice President Michael Dowling were charged in relation to their roles in the massive corruption case, Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced in an online news conference.

“Their actions over a period of years have undermined confidence in state governments, the rule of law, and very nearly made them even richer men than they already are,” Yost said of Jones and Dowling, who are facing criminal charges for the first time since the scandal began. “There can be no justice without holding the check writers and the masterminds accountable.”

Both Jones and Dowling were fired in October 2020 for violating company policies and code of conduct, but the lack of indictments had been notable as a 5-year statute of limitations nears.

Yost said a grand jury in Summit County, home to Akron, indicted Jones and Dowling on Friday. He said the two men promised to turn themselves in Monday to the Summit County Jail, but that they did not keep that promise. He said he anticipated they would be taken into custody sometime later Monday.

Monday’s announcement also included additional charges against Sam Randazzo, former chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, who is already facing 11 counts of charges centered around allegations he accepted bribes from Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. in exchange for regulatory favors. It also names his two businesses, IEU-Ohio Administration Co. and Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio.

Randazzo resigned in November 2020 after FBI agents searched his Columbus townhome and FirstEnergy revealed in security filings that it had paid him $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.

Jones, Dowling and Randazzo face a combined 27 new felony counts announced by Yost, including bribery, theft, engaging in corrupt activity, tampering with records and money laundering.

“This indictment is about more than one piece of legislation,” Yost said Monday. “It is about the hostile capture of a significant portion of Ohio’s state government by deception, betrayal and dishonesty.”

The long-awaited indictments mark the latest development in what has been labeled the largest corruption case in Ohio history.

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 and await sentencing. 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.

In July 2021, Yost asked a judge in Columbus to add Jones, Dowling and Randazzo to a state-level lawsuit by his office against FirstEnergy.

An 81-page FBI criminal complaint from July 2020 detailed how executives of Akron-based FirstEnergy interacted with Householder and others indicted in the scheme, as well as identifying 84 phone contacts between Jones and the former speaker and 14 phone contacts between Dowling and Householder.

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.

A statement of facts signed by current FirstEnergy CEO and President Steven Strah lays out in detail the involvement of Jones, Dowling, Randazzo and others in the bribery scheme. Randazzo’s attorneys have called claims contained in the document mere “hearsay” designed to keep the energy giant out of legal hot water.

ORIGINAL REPORT:

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced charges Monday against three men in connection with the multi-million dollar House Bill 6 corruption investigation, known as the largest public corruption scandal in Ohio history.

Newly charged are former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones, former FirstEnergy Vice President of external affairs Michael Dowling and former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo.

They face a combined 27 felony counts, including bribery, theft, money laundering, tampering with government records and engaging in corrupt activity.

“This indictment is about more than one piece of legislation,” Yost said during a Monday press conference. “It is about the hostile capture of a significant portion of Ohio’s state government by deception, betrayal and dishonesty. Shout it from the public square to the boardroom, from Wall Street to Broad and High: Those who perversely seek to turn the government to their own private ends will face the destruction of everything they worked for.”

Yost took no questions in his press conference, but noted that the jury that approved the charges last Friday remains empaneled, signaling that there may be more charges to come from the state’s investigation.

Yost said the the legal counsel representing Jones, Dowling and Randazzo assured him that the men would turn themselves in on Monday morning, but that promise was unfulfilled. Yost said he expected to have all three in custody by the end of the day.

This is the first time the state of Ohio has charged any individuals in connection with the scheme, and the first time any investigator has charged former FirstEnergy officials for their role. Previously, federal investigators brought charges against Republican former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges and lobbyist Neil Clark for their participation in the bribery scheme.

Last year, Householder and Borges were handed a 20-year and five-year federal prison sentence, respectively. Clark died of suicide before facing any charges.

Note: This is a developing story. This article may be updated as more information becomes available.


Follow DDN statehouse reporter Avery Kreemer on X or reach out to him at Avery.Kreemer@coxinc.com or at 614-981-1422.

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