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Former FirstEnergy executives, ex-state regulator plead not guilty to new indictments in House Bill 6 bribery scandal

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Bond for former FirstEnergy executives Charles Jones and Michael Dowling as well as former PUCO Chairman Samuel Randazzo was set at $100K.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The investigation into the bribery scandal surrounding House Bill 6 and FirstEnergy has brought a new indictment with 27 combined counts of felony violations, according to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

Those named in the indictment include the following:

Two companies allegedly controlled by Randazzo — the Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio and Industrial Energy Users-Ohio Administration Co. — are also named in the filing. Both are alleged to be shell companies created solely for furthering Randazzo's alleged criminal activity, according to a press release from Yost's office.

All three men appeared in Summit County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday for arraignment. Each of the defendants pleaded not guilty to all charges. A pretrial hearing on Zoom has been set for April 19. 

Summit County Common Pleas Judge Susan Baker Ross set bond for all three men at $100,000 and ordered them to remain in Ohio under GPS monitoring. Ross also denied the request of Jones' attorney, Carole Rendon, that her client be allowed to forego GPS monitoring due to a medical condition and to return to his primary residence in Naples, Florida.

Randazzo's attorney, Richard Blake, also entered not guilty pleas Tuesday on behalf of both businesses. He noted that IEU-Ohio has since been dissolved.

You can watch Tuesday's arraignment below.

Yost's office said the indictment accuses the enterprise of engaging in a scheme to corrupt the PUCO chairman and ratemaking policies, stealing millions of dollars from FirstEnergy and a nonprofit trade group, and tampering with government records.

"Jones and Dowling actively worked to spend FirstEnergy money to improperly influence Randazzo to exercise the authority of PUCO chairman to advance FirstEnergy's regulatory and policy agendas," the indictment says. 

Both pushed back forcefully Monday, denying any wrongdoing and accusing Yost of false assertions.

"For more than three years, a false and unfair narrative has surrounded Chuck Jones and other current and former employees of FirstEnergy, the company to which Mr. Jones devoted his entire 42-year career. That ends today," Rendon said in a statement on Jones' behalf. "Mr. Jones did not violate the law. He did not bribe anyone. He acted in the best interests of FirstEnergy's customers as well as its employees and investors, and never betrayed their trust."

Yost said a grand jury in Summit County, home to FirstEnergy's headquarters in Akron, indicted Jones and Dowling on Friday and that the two men promised to turn themselves in Monday to the Summit County Jail but then did not. Jones said through his attorney that he was in Akron when the comment was made, awaiting instructions from the court as to how to proceed. 

Here's a breakdown of the charges as outlined by Yost's office:

"The conduct alleged in the indictment took place between 2010 and 2021 in Summit County, Franklin County and Florida."

Randazzo was indicted on 22 felony counts

"The evidence at trial will show that he [Randazzo] used his awesome power as chairman to actively subvert Ohio's regulation of FirstEnergy," Yost said. "He was covered with FirstEnergy pocket lint. He was paid by the taxpayers and was supposed to work for you, but instead he worked for them as their agent, their lobbyist, their ally."

Jones was indicted on 10 felony counts

"He was instrumental in the theft of $4.3 million from FirstEnergy and its shareholders and the payment of the money to Sam Randazzo in exchange for favorable PUCO actions," according to Carol O'Brien, Deputy Attorney General for Law Enforcement.

Dowling was indicted on 12 felony counts

"He was a key architect of the long-term payments to Sam Randazzo for work done for FirstEnergy and the $4.3 million bribe paid to Sam Randazzo in return for favors," O'Brien said.

Dowling disputed Yost's allegations that the payment represented any kind of a bribe, vowing to prove his innocence at trial.

He said the sum represented the final annual installment from a 2015 settlement agreement between FirstEnergy and IEU-Ohio — a trade association of large commercial energy users represented by Randazzo — and that the decision to make those payments through SFA was made by FirstEnergy's legal and rates departments, not by Dowling himself.

"The allegations of this indictment are completely false and are not supported by any credible evidence whatsoever," John McCaffrey, one of his lawyers, said in a statement. "It is shocking that a public prosecutor's office would return an irresponsible indictment and have no evidence to support the charges in the indictment."

The state pushed back Tuesday.

"This was not a $4.3 million coincidence," said Principal Assistant Attorney General Matthew Meyer. 

Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio is included in 11 criminal charges

IEU-Ohio Administration is included in five criminal charges

"They are sham companies who had no employees and no clients," according to O'Brien. "They were merely pass-through companies where all income from their activities went back to Sam Randazzo."

Ohio Consumers' Counsel Maureen Willis provided the following statement to 3News after the indictments:

"The state indictments of former PUCO Chair Randazzo and former FirstEnergy executives that Attorney General Yost announced today are another important step to bringing justice to Ohio utility consumers. Still, more needs to be done. Ohioans continue to bear the cost of corruption — the H.B.6 coal plant subsidy — with a price tag of half a million dollars a day. Unless repealed, the cost to consumers is estimated to be $700 million by 2030. That must change. The coal subsidy should end now, not in 2030. And consumers should be refunded for every penny paid.

TIMELINE IN THE CASE

Here is a timeline with key dates connected to this case as outlined by Yost's office:

"Like all Ohioans, I was appalled by the revelations that came out in July of 2020 when the United States Department of Justice brought the first indictments on Larry Householder and others," Yost said. "The five men at the core of that scandal were indicted. The four of them that were still living were convicted in federal court in the case brought by the US DOJ."

LARRY HOUSEHOLDER'S CONNECTION

Householder was sentenced to 20 years in prison last June for his role in the scandal.

"Larry Householder led a criminal enterprise responsible for one of the largest public corruption conspiracies in Ohio history," U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker said at the time. "Elected officials owe a duty to provide honest services to their constituents — transparency, integrity and accountability are foundational principles of democracy. Householder once held one of the three most powerful offices in the State of Ohio. Now, because of his corruption, he will serve a substantial prison sentence."

Here's how Householder's case was summarized by the U.S. Attorney's Office Southern District of Ohio:

"A jury found Householder and former Ohio Republican Party chair Mathew Borges, 50, of Bexley, Ohio, guilty of participating in a racketeering conspiracy. The verdict was announced in March, following a six-week trial that included more than 1,000 exhibits and 25 witnesses.

"The government proved beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that Householder and his enterprise conspired to violate the racketeering statute through honest services wire fraud, receipt of millions of dollars in bribes and money laundering.

"Householder and his conspirators exploited the lack of transparency in 501(c)(4) entities to bury their corrupt and complex scheme to accept nearly $61 million in bribes to pass and uphold a billion-dollar nuclear plant bailout.

"According to court documents and trial testimony, from March 2017 to March 2020, the enterprise traded millions of dollars in bribery campaign donations in exchange for Householder's and the enterprise's help in passing House Bill 6. The defendants then also worked to corruptly ensure that HB 6 went into effect by defeating a ballot initiative to overturn the legislation.

"In March 2017, Householder began receiving quarterly $250,000 payments from the related-energy companies into the bank account of his 501(c)(4), Generation Now. Team Householder spent millions of the company's dollars to support Householder's political bid to become Speaker, to support House candidates they believed would back Householder, and for their own personal benefit.

"The United States detailed that Householder spent more than half a million dollars of the dark money to pay off his credit card balances, repair his Florida home and settle a business lawsuit.

"Borges used approximately $366,000 for his personal benefit.

"Borges was budgeted $25,000 to bribe an Ohio Republican operative to try to save House Bill 6. Borges gave the man a $15,000 check in exchange for information on the number of signatures collected on the anti-House Bill 6 ballot referendum. Borges is scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow.

"Householder's longtime campaign and political strategist, Jeffrey Longstreth, and lobbyist Juan Cespedes, both of Columbus, Ohio, previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the racketeering conspiracy. FirstEnergy Corp. signed a deferred prosecution settlement in July 2021, agreeing to pay a $230 million penalty for conspiring to bribe public officials and others. Longstreth and Cespedes await sentencing; their hearings have not yet been scheduled."

Borges ended up receiving a five-year prison sentence.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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