The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio continues to stonewall requests for the names of staff members who recommended a protective order that hid key details of its audit into the state’s corrupt HB 6 law.

PUCO lawyers continue to claim they have no records about the staff’s recommendation to grant the order issued last July. That’s despite multiple documents from other cases before the commission in which staff members urged auditors to tone down their conclusions and revealed that the utilities themselves were given the power to remove information from their audits.

Checks & Balances Project has hired attorney Scott Jones of Cincinnati to pursue documents related to the protective order. PUCO continues to insist no documents exist and that any internal PUCO communications related to C&BP’s request are protected by attorney-client privilege.

The result so far is that PUCO has refused to provide information about the decisions that prevented readers of the audit conducted by London Economics International (LEI) from learning the identity of the company overcharging ratepayers for coal, the cost of the coal and the finances of the Ohio Valley Electric Corp., the company bailed out by HB 6.

The information removed from the audit is available publicly from a variety of sources that are familiar to experts on utility policy, but removing it from the LEI audit meant that members of the public unfamiliar with the nuances of OVEC operations were not able to connect the dots from reading the audit.

C&BP has reported that the owner of Resource Fuels, the company overpaid for the coal it supplied OVEC, was an early donor to the political fund used to bribe former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder to pass HB 6. Resource Fuels also donated $250,000 to the fund.

Householder was convicted on federal corruption charges last year and is serving a 20-year sentence. Another conspirator is serving a five-year sentence, and two others indicted in the scheme, lobbyist Neil Clark and former PUCO chairman Sam Randazzo, have committed suicide before they went to trial.

PUCO eventually relented on some of the most egregious omissions from the LEI audit and allowed them into the record, but they are still not included in the version of the audit that’s most easily accessible on the PUCO website. Instead, the removed redactions are mentioned only in other submissions to the docket.

More lax PUCO enforcement

PUCO has been slow to react in another case involving FirstEnergy Corp., whose former executives started the scheme to bribe Householder and pass HB 6. After the indictments in July 2020 in the HB 6 case, FirstEnergy commissioned two law firms to determine the extent of the company’s legal exposure in the case.

Consumer advocates and attorneys representing investors in a class-action suit against FirstEnergy are seeking those reports, which the company claims are protected by attorney-client privilege. U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley has rejected those claims, ruling that the reports are not privileged.

But FirstEnergy still refuses to turn over the reports, and PUCO has done nothing to make them.

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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