Sam Randazzo, the former chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, was charged in an 11-count indictment for his involvement in the passage of the HB 6 that bailed out money-losing nuclear- and coal-fueled power plants and gutted Ohio’s renewable energy mandate.
Randazzo, the PUCO chair from April 2019 until his resignation in November 2020, is the sixth person indicted for his role in the HB 6 scandal. His indictment followed years of speculation why it had taken so long for someone so intimately involved in the situation to remain untouched by prosecution.
A longtime attorney for fossil fuel interests, Randazzo was named PUCO chairman by newly elected Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, in 2019. While ostensibly a neutral regulator of the state’s utility industry, Randazzo was actually helping to write HB 6 to help utility company FirstEnergy, its corporate affiliate First Energy Solutions and other fossil fuel interests.
“Public officials – whether elected or appointed – are tasked with upholding the highest level of integrity in their duties and responsibilities. Such service to the public must be selfless, not selfish,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker. “Through the indictment unsealed today, we seek to hold Randazzo accountable for his alleged illegal activities.”
In July 2020, the Justice Department indicted former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder, former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges, political operative Jeffrey Longstreth and lobbyists Juan Cespedes and Neil Clark for their roles in using a dark money political fund to support Householder’s bid for speaker and to push HB 6 through the Ohio legislature in 2019.
Longstreth and Cespedes pleaded guilty and testified against Householder and Borges in the early 2023 trial that led to the convictions of both men. Householder is now serving a 20-year federal prison sentence, while Borges was sentenced to five years.
Clark committed suicide in November 2021.
FirstEnergy admitted bribing Randazzo
The indictment released Monday says Randazzo allegedly received more than $4.3 million from Akron-based FirstEnergy and its affiliates to provide favorable official actions for the company through PUCO proceedings.
FirstEnergy’s then-CEO Chuck Jones and Householder led the effort to pass HB 6 to help stabilize the company’s finances. FirstEnergy entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department in July 2021 in which it acknowledged bribing Randazzo. The company paid a $230 million fine along with signing the agreement.
“FirstEnergy Corp. paid $4.3 million dollars to Public Official B (identified as Randazzo) through his consulting company in return for Public Official B 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,” the FirstEnergy deferred prosecution says.
Longtime opponent of renewable energy
Before his appointment as PUCO chair, Randazzo represented a series of fossil fuel companies as they tried to stymie the development of renewable energy in Ohio.
In 2017, Randazzo helped draft laws that tripled the property setbacks for wind turbines in Ohio, which crippled the development of wind projects.
In 2008, Randazzo and then-House speaker Jon Husted, now Ohio’s lieutenant governor, blocked a renewable energy standards bill backed by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. A 2020 report by the Associated Press reported that Husted “introduced a new version of the bill more amenable to a coalition of utilities led by FirstEnergy, which has been generous to Husted’s political campaigns over the years. Randazzo’s name appeared as the creator of the electronic document Husted distributed.”
By the time Randazzo became PUCO chair, FirstEnergy and its allies knew he would be a strong supporter.
The indictment released Monday said Randazzo “included language in a PUCO Opinion and Order that would address an issue for” FirstEnergy “that was slated to happen in 2024. “Stock is gonna get hit with Ohio 2024. Need Sam to get rid of the ‘Ohio 2024 hole,’” an energy executive text message read. Another executive messaged, in part: “I spoke with Sam today. Told me 2024 issue will be handled next Thursday.” The next Thursday, the PUCO decision included language alleviating the 2024 issue.”
If convicted, Randazzo faces a possible 20-year sentence in federal prison.
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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