Statehouse corruption probe: Energy company to pay $230 million fine

CINCINNATI — Federal authorities announced Thursday that Akron-based First Energy Company will pay a $230 million fine for illegal dealings at the Ohio Statehouse to benefit the company. It is the latest development in a long-running investigation that broke on July 21, 2020 with the indictment of former House Speaker Larry Householder on bribery and racketeering charges in what has become the largest political scandal in state history.

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Vipal J. Patel, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, announced the negotiated settlement with the company, giving few details of how First Energy actually went about making payments to politicians to get legislation passed, known as House Bill 6, that benefited the company. The bill was a $1 billion bail-out of the company’s nuclear power plants. Although it was controversial, HB6 passed the Ohio House and Senate and then was signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine.

Investigators learned later that First Energy funneled $61 million in payments to politicians to make sure the bill passed. Authorities allege in the indictment of Householder that some of that money was used to help him build his power base and get him elected Speaker. DeWine denied any wrongdoing and late Thursday issued a statement concerning his former Public Utilities Chairman, Sam Randazzo. Randazzo stepped down from the PUCO after the FBI raided his home in Columbus.

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“If, as stated in the court documents, Sam Randazzo committed acts to improperly benefit First Energy, his motives were not known by me or my staff,” DeWine said.

DeWine also announced campaign contributions from First Energy would be donated to the Boys and Girls Clubs.

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Randazzo has not been charged. Patel said though First Energy is cooperating in the federal investigation and admitted giving him large sums of money. Patel said “it paid $4.3 million dollars to a second public official. In return, the individual acted in their official capacity to further First Energy Corp.’s interests related to passage of nuclear legislation and other company priorities.”

Householder has entered a plea of not guilty, along with one other person charged with him. Two others, though, have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with investigators. A fifth person charged in the case last year committed suicide.