Ohio utility that paid federal penalty says it’s now being investigated by a state commission

Aug 2, 2023, 3:31 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio-based utility company says it’s being investigated by a state office focused on organized crime in connection with payments the company made to the state’s former House speaker and a top utility regulator, a news outlet reported Wednesday.

FirstEnergy said in a financial report filed Monday that it had received a subpoena on June 29 from the Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission, Cleveland.com reported. The commission is a division of the state attorney general’s office.

The payments were the focus of a 2021 deferred prosecution agreement between the Akron-based firm and federal authorities in which the company agreed to pay a $230 million penalty and cooperate with investigators. The company said in its filing Monday that it had been unaware of the state investigation.

In the federal agreement, FirstEnergy acknowledged having bankrolled former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder’s political ascendance in exchange for nuclear plant bailout legislation worth more than $1 billion to the company. Householder was convicted by a federal jury in June of racketeering in the $60 million scheme and was sentenced to 20 years. He is appealing. Lobbyist Matt Borges, former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, was also convicted of racketeering and sentenced to the minimum of five years in prison, which he is also appealing.

FirstEnergy also said it paid $4.3 million for favorable treatment to Sam Randazzo, the state’s former top utility regulator, who had ties to the company. Randazzo hasn’t been charged and has said he never used his position to further the firm’s interests.

FirstEnergy spokesperson Jennifer Young told Cleveland.com that the firm believes the state organized crime commission’s investigation is in an early stage and declined to comment further. She said FirstEnergy has “accepted full responsibility for its past actions” and addressed them by entering into the deferred prosecution agreement and paying a “substantial penalty.”

Bethany McCorkle, a spokesperson for Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, said her office would be legally barred from talking about any investigation before filing charges and also declined to provide a copy of the subpoena, Cleveland.com reported.

FirstEnergy’s former chief executive officer had said in an April court filing that the firm faced “looming potential indictments.” A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission probe of the company continues.

The utility serves a number of states, including Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

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Ohio utility that paid federal penalty says it’s now being investigated by a state commission