Former FirstEnergy execs, ex-PUCO head face state charges in Ohio nuclear bailout scandal
Two former executives with FirstEnergy now face state charges in what's been called the largest corruption scandal in state history, involving the nuclear power plant bailout law known as House Bill 6.
These are the first criminal charges against former FirstEnergy CEO Charles Jones and former FirstEnergy senior vice president Michael Dowling. Former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chair Sam Randazzo has also been indicted on state charges.
Attorney General Dave Yost announced the 27 felony counts against the three men, saying they were part of "the Jones racket," a scheme to pay $60 million in bribes to pass HB 6 and keep it in place. Yost said they were indicted under seal on Friday, but that Jones and Dowling didn't surrender to authorities Monday morning as they agreed to. Yost said arrest warrants were issued for all three on Friday.
Jones and Dowling have been charged with bribery, accused of paying Randazzo $4.3 million in 2019 to influence him while he was serving as chair of the PUCO, the state's utilities regulator. They're also charged with money laundering, theft and telecommunications fraud.
Randazzo is charged with bribery, tampering with records and failing to register as a lobbyist as he was serving as PUCO chair.
House Bill 6 passed in 2019. It provided a billion dollars in subsidies over 10 years for two nuclear power plants owned by a FirstEnergy subsidiary. Investigators allege Randazzo set up "sham" companies to funnel money from FirstEnergy, and that Jones and Dowling authorized the payments.
These charges come almost a year after Republican former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges were convicted of federal racketeering charges in the HB 6 scandal. Householder is serving a 20-year prison sentence, and Borges is serving five years.
FirstEnergy admitted to bribing Householder and Randazzo in 2020.
"There can be no justice without holding the check writers and the masterminds accountable," Yost said when announcing the state indictments.
Jones and Dowling were fired from FirstEnergy in 2020, but they had both denied any wrongdoing.
The Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission from Yost's office has been investigating whether any state laws were broken because of the scandal. Yost said he was concerned that the statute of limitations would run out in 2024, or that a successful appeal would mean they could run for office again, because Ohio law includes a bar on future elected office or public service after a conviction.
Yost said the task force continues its work and the grand jury remains impaneled.
Randazzo was indicted on 11 federal charges in December and has pleaded not guilty. Jones and Dowling are not facing federal charges. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Kenneth Parker said in a statement: "Today’s announcement was strictly related to state charges. We will continue doing our work to pursue justice."
Lobbyist Juan Cespedes and Householder aide Jeff Longstreth were also indicted in the federal case, cooperated with investigators and testified against Householder and Borges. Lobbyist Neil Clark was also indicted, but died by suicide in March 2021.