Former chair of Ohio’s utility regulator indicted in nuclear bailout law scandal
The former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the state entity charged with regulating utilities, is the latest to be indicted in connection with the nuclear bailout scandal. The indictment of former PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo comes a little over five months after Republican former House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges were sentenced to prison on racketeering charges related to the case.
Randazzo surrendered to federal authorities Monday morning at US District Court in Cincinnati and appeared in court a few hours later. His hands and feet were shackled. He was released after his court appearance with conditions, such as not leaving Ohio without permission.
Randazzo pleaded not guilty to an 11-count indictment on charges of bribery, wire fraud and illegal monetary transactions. Randazzo could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The indictment alleges Randazzo accepted $4.3 million by FirstEnergy and used it “for his own personal benefit.” It says Randazzo “personal official action for the benefit of [FirstEnergy],” the utility at the center of the HB 6 scandal.
Federal authorities raided Randazzo’s home in November 2020 and he resigned from his post as leader of the agency that regulates utilities shortly after that. First Energy said in its prosecution agreement with federal officials that it bribed both Randazzo and Householder.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted has been subpoenaed to testify in a civil suit involving the company this week. And Gov. Mike DeWine’s office has been asked to furnish information as part of that inquiry. Neither DeWine nor Husted are named as parties in that lawsuit.
Republican former House Speaker Larry Householder is serving a 20-year prison sentence, and former Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges is in prison for five years after their convictions in connection with the scandal. Lobbyist Juan Cespesdes and former Householder aide Jeff Longstreth pleaded guilty in connection with the case, as did FirstEnergy and the dark money group Generation Now. Lobbyist Neil Clark was also arrested in the case but died by suicide in March 2021.
“The indictment of former Public Utilities Commission Chair Sam Randazzo is an important step to bring justice to Ohio utility consumers,” said Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Maureen Willis, who heads the agency that represents consumers in utility cases. “It underscores the need for near-term reform of the PUCO selection process that led to his appointment as Chair of the PUCO. OCC’s calls for reform so far have gone unanswered. Ohioans deserve better from the public officials in this state.”
While the nuclear power plant subsidies in HB 6 were repealed in 2021, the rest of the bill remains, including subsidies for two coal-fired power plants. Electric ratepayers around Ohio have paid around $200 million toward those two plants, one of which is in Indiana.
Randazzo’s indictment is prompting a renewed call to rescind HB6 from a state lawmaker who has been calling for its repeal. Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) said Ohioans are still paying for the corruption that came from this bill. But he says this indictment answers questions about the extent of Randazzo's involvement.
“I love ‘consequence culture’. I’m all for accountability and finally we are going to get that. A little sunshine is a great disinfectant in terms of the money that moved, that fueled the passage of this terrible law," Weinstein said.
Majority Republicans who control the Ohio Legislature have not responded to calls to repeal HB 6 in the past.
Nick Swartsell with WVXU in Cincinnati contributed to this story.