Two former FirstEnergy Corp. executives and a former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio pleaded not guilty Feb. 13 to charges related to their alleged roles in a racketeering conspiracy that led to a $1-billion state-funded bailout of two nuclear plants, and funneled $61 million in bribes to politicians, lobbyists and their aides.  

Former FirstEnergy CEO Charles E. Jones, former Senior Vice President Michael J. Dowling and former PUCO Chairman Samuel Randazzo, were indicted Feb. 12 by a Summit County grand jury on charges of participating in a corrupt enterprise. The three face a total of 27 felony counts including bribery, theft, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with records and money laundering. The state’s indictment marks the first time any FirstEnergy executives have been criminally charged for allegedly being involved in the case that previously saw former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges convicted of federal racketeering crimes.

The 50-page indictment alleges that Jones, Dowling and Radazzo were “literally thick as thieves. Together they would steal money from FirstEnergy, write legislative provisions worth unearned millions of dollars to FirstEnergy, legally guarantee FirstEnergy’s continued profitability, and take over state government in a way that allowed First Energy to regulate itself.” 

The indictment further alleges that Randazzo would “steal money from his clients, structure financial transactions in such a way as to avoid detection, lie during testimony to the General Assembly, and put a halt to a scheduled rate case before the PUCO that would have produced unwelcome scrutiny of FirstEnergy’s profitability, and likely would have resulted in an order to decrease FirstEnergy’s rates.” 

The indictment stems from Ohio House Bill 6, which was signed into law on July 23, 2019, and provided a $1-billion subsidy to keep open the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants, both previously owned by Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp.  

FirstEnergy admitted in 2020 that it was involved in the racketeering conspiracy. FirstEnergy was the main contributor that directed money through a political action committee known as Generation Now, which supported Householder’s political ambitions and personal expenses. The company also noted in security filings that it had paid Randazzo $4.3 million to secure his future help at the utility commission a month before he was nominated as Ohio’s top utility regulator.

Householder was found guilty of racketeering conspiracy and sentenced to 20 years in prison last year in federal court in Cincinnati while Borges, who was a lobbyist for FirstEnergy, was found guilty of the same charge and sentenced to five years in prison. 

Referring to the charges against Jones, Dowling and Randazzo, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) said “this indictment is about more than one piece of legislation. It is about the hostile capture of a significant portion of Ohio's state government by deception, betrayal and dishonesty.”

Carole Rendon, an attorney for Jones, criticized the indictment. 

“We are disappointed that the Ohio Attorney General and Summit County Prosecutor chose to obtain an indictment without ever speaking with Mr. Jones or his counsel or otherwise attempting to understand the full context of the one-sided information on which the indictment is based,” she said in a statement.  

“Mr. Jones did not violate the law,” she added. “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.” 

Randozzo resigned from PUCO in November 2020 after FBI agents searched his Columbus home and after FirstEnergy had noted in security filings that it had paid him $4.3 million to secure his future help at the commission. The money was allegedly paid through Sustainability Funding Alliance, which the indictment states was one of two shell companies operated by Randazzo. 

John McCaffrey, an attorney for Dowling, said in a statement that Dowling plans to prove his innocence at trial, particularly as it relates to the $4.3 million payment to Sustainability Funding Alliance, which McCaffrey says was part of an unrelated settlement agreement. 

“The allegations of this indictment are completely false and are not supported by any evidence whatsoever,” McCaffrey said. 

Both Dowling and Jones were fired from FirstEnergy in 2020 for violating the company's policies and code of ethics.  

“While we can’t comment on the actions of the Ohio Attorney General's Office, FirstEnergy has taken significant steps to move forward, including reconstituting our senior leadership team and instilling a culture of ethics, integrity and accountability at every level of the organization,” said Jennifer Young, a spokesperson for FirstEnergy in a statement.