Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost

For three and a half years, some of the main actors in Ohio’s HB 6 corruption scandal seemed to skate past any legal consequences for their actions, but a pair of recent indictments show that justice delayed may no longer mean justice denied.

On Dec. 4, former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) chairman Sam Randazzo was indicted on federal corruption charges for taking a $4.3 million bribe from Akron-based utility FirstEnergy. On Feb. 9, Randazzo was indicted again, this time by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on state charges related to that bribe and his subsequent actions as PUCO chairman.

This time, however, Randazzo had company — former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones and ex-senior vice president of external affairs Michael Dowling, who were indicted on charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and multiple other charges.

“Charles ‘Chuck’ Jones, Michael Dowling and Sam Randazzo were literally as thick as thieves,” the indictment by Yost’s office said. “Together, they would steal money from FirstEnergy, write legislative provisions worth unearned millions of dollars to FirstEnergy, legally guarantee continued FirstEnergy’s profitability and take over the state government in a way that allowed FirstEnergy to regulate itself.”

In a corruption scandal that started in 2017 and continues today, FirstEnergy and its affiliate funneled more than $60 million to former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder to help him secure the speakership, elect his allies to the state legislature and then pass a law that bailed out the company’s failing nuclear and coal-fired power plants.

Although the nuclear plant bailouts of HB 6 were repealed in April 2021, subsidies for two coal-fired plants built in the 1950s remain, costing Ohio ratepayers at least $100 million a year.

Two convictions, two guilty pleas, one suicide

Despite the wide fallout from the scandal, only two participants – Householder and former Republican Party chairman Matt Borges – have been convicted, while two others have pleaded guilty. A fifth original defendant, lobbyist Neil Clark, committed suicide in 2021 as the revelations about his role continued to emerge.

Jones and Dowling arranged for Householder to receive the money through two 501c4 nonprofit organizations allowed to conceal their donors. Householder then used the money to power his political organization and to pay for improvements to his second home in Florida.

Former PUCO chair Sam Randazzo

The alliance between FirstEnergy and Householder also helped elect Republicans Mike DeWine and Jon Husted as Ohio’s governor and lieutenant governor, enabled the passage of HB 6 and Randazzo’s appointment as PUCO chairman.

Randazzo, a Columbus attorney with long connections with the state’s utility and fossil fuel industries, helped write HB6, even after he became PUCO chairman.

FirstEnergy, meanwhile, in July 2021 signed a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors and agreed to pay a $230 million fine. The company denied wrongdoing, but they acknowledged in the agreement that the company led by Jones and Dowling “paid $4.3 million dollars to (Randazzo) through his consulting company in return for (Randazzo) performing official action in his capacity as PUCO Chairman to further FirstEnergy Corp.’s interests relating to passage of nuclear legislation and other specific FirstEnergy Corp. legislative and regulatory priorities, as requested and as opportunities arose.”

Numerous details in the deferred prosecution agreement surfaced in the state’s indictment of Randazzo, Jones and Dowling.

Checks & Balances Project tracked the various participants in the case to show where they stand legally:

John Kiani

An activist investor, Kiani ran a hedge fund, Cove Key, that invested in FirstEnergy Solutions (FES], the nuclear power subsidiary of FirstEnergy, in January 2018. FES filed for bankruptcy in March 2018 and needed the subsidy provided by HB6 to emerge from bankruptcy successfully. As the CEO of FES, Kiani directed the payment of $43 million to Generation Now, the 501c4 nonprofit used to funnel bribes to Householder. During the 2023 trial of Householder and Borges, a witness said Kiani stood to make $100 million from the sale of the company, once HB 6 passed. FirstEnergy Solutions emerged from bankruptcy in early 2020 as Energy Harbor with Kiani still as its CEO. Energy Harbor agreed to sell its nuclear plants in March 2023, a sale that was approved this month by federal regulators.

Juan Cespedes

A lobbyist for the Oxley Group in Columbus, Cespedes represented FirstEnergy Solutions, the corporate subsidiary that operated the two nuclear power plants. Cespedes “facilitated the flow of funds between FirstEnergy Solutions, FirstEnergy Service, Partners for Progress, Inc. and Generation Now,” the dark money groups financing the HB6 efforts, according to a lawsuit filed against FirstEnergy by Attorney General Dave Yost’s office. Cespedes pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering charges stemming from the HB6 scandal and testified against Borges and Householder in March 2023. He is cooperating with federal authorities and has not been sentenced.

Jeff Longstreth

An Ohio political operative, Longstreth was the main consultant for all of Householder’s political operations. He ran Generation Now, the dark money nonprofit that funneled $60 million from FirstEnergy Corp. and FirstEnergy Solutions to Householder. Longstreth was charged with participating in a racketeering conspiracy in July 2020, and he pleaded guilty in September 2020. Longstreth testified against Householder and Borges in the March 2023 federal trial of both men. He is cooperating with federal authorities and has not been sentenced.

Gov. Mike DeWine

Mike DeWine

Ohio Gov. Michael DeWine is one of the state’s most durable elected officials, having been a U.S. representative and senator, state attorney general and governor for two terms. He was first elected governor in 2018 after a campaign backed by the same interests – FirstEnergy, its executives and affiliates – that supported Householder and HB 6. After his election, DeWine, Husted, Jones and Dowling celebrated at a Dec. 18, 2018, dinner during which they discussed Randazzo as PUCO chairman. DeWine named Randazzo as PUCO chairman, which enabled Randazzo to shape HB 6 and benefit FirstEnergy. In the deferred prosecution agreement reached by FirstEnergy with federal prosecutors, DeWine was mentioned frequently as “State Official 1.” DeWine has been subpoenaed to testify in the ongoing civil case against FirstEnergy by investors.

Jon Husted

A former Ohio House speaker, Husted mounted a 2018 race for governor before joining DeWine’s ticket as the nominee for lieutenant governor. After the election, he was instrumental in getting his longtime ally Randazzo chosen as PUCO chairman. Husted had a long record opposing renewable energy as a state House member, including derailing a proposed plan to increase the amount of renewable energy generated in the state. In 2019, Husted worked with Jones and Dowling of FirstEnergy to ensure the nuclear power plant bailout would last 10 years. In the deferred prosecution agreement reached by FirstEnergy with federal prosecutors, Husted was mentioned frequently as “State Official 2.” Husted, who has also been subpoenaed in the FirstEnergy civil case, has now called for the repeal of HB 6.

Ray Locker is the executive director for Checks & Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.

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