Ohio Supreme Court rules state can freeze $8m in assets of ex-official fighting corruption charges
The Ohio Supreme Court has unanimously ruled the state can freeze $8 million in assets owned by Sam Randazzo, the former chair of the Public Utilities Commission who’s been indicted in the corruption scandal involving FirstEnergy and Republican former House speaker Larry Householder.
It was a decision on a technical issue in the case. In the decision written by Republican Justice Pat DeWine, the court said Randazzo got a hearing after his assets were frozen, so he couldn’t object to a decision to freeze his assets without a hearing.
But it's a loss for Randazzo, as he's fighting 11 counts of bribery and fraud in federal court. He's pleaded not guilty to accepting a bribe from FirstEnergy before becoming PUCO chair to get favorable treatment from the state's utility regulator.
Randazzo transferred $4.8 million in properties in early 2021, not long after he resigned as PUCO chair days after the FBI raided his home. He transferred a property worth $500,000 to his son and sold off four other properties in Ohio and Florida.
In July 2021, FirstEnergy admitted in a plea deal with federal prosecutors that it paid Randazzo a $4.3 million bribe. A month later, Attorney General Dave Yost asked for a freeze on $8 million in assets after Randazzo was added to a racketeering lawsuit he filed that included former FirstEnergy executives Charles Jones and Michael Dowling. At the time, none had been charged in the case.
The state’s attorney Charles Miller told the justices in oral arguments in June Randazzo was trying to shield his assets, so the state had to move.
"This is spending down of criminal proceeds is what it is. That's exactly what's happening here," said Miller. “He just wants to be to take that money, run off with it, spend it down, use it, move it around, give things to his children so that he's judgment-proof at the end of the day. And that has to be stopped.”
But Randazzo's attorney Roger Sugarman told the court that the plea deal isn't proof.
"FirstEnergy bought its way out of a criminal prosecution by agreeing to pay $230 million, and they made some other admissions," Sugarman said. "But if you look when you read our briefs and look at the record, every statement made against Mr. Randazzo in that case that was relied upon is hearsay. It's unsupported evidence. "
The civil case filed by Yost is ongoing.
Householder is serving a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted of racketeering in March. Former Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges was also convicted in the case, and is serving a five-year sentence. Last week Borges asked an appeals court to overturn his conviction based on errors made by the judge in the case.