COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two FirstEnergy Corp. executives fired were indicted Monday as part of a long-running investigation into a $60 million Ohio bribery scheme that has already resulted in a 20-year prison sentence for a former House speaker .
Former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones and former FirstEnergy Services Corp. Senior Vice President Michael Dowling have been charged in connection with their alleged roles in the massive corruption scandal, the Republican attorney general of Ohio’s Dave Yost during an online press conference.
“Their actions over the years have undermined trust in state governments and the rule of law, and almost made them even richer men than they already are,” Yost said of of Jones and Dowling, who are facing criminal charges for the first time. since the start of the scandal. “There can be no justice without holding check writers and masterminds accountable. »
Jones and Dowling were fired in October 2020 for violating company policies and code of conduct and, given their numerous mentions in prior indictments and court proceedings, lack of acts of The accusation was notable as it approached a 5-year statute of limitations.
Both responded forcefully on Monday, denying any wrongdoing and accusing Yost of false claims.
“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 has dedicated his entire 42-year career. This ends today,” his lawyer Carole Rendon said in a statement. “Mr. Jones did not violate the law. He didn’t bribe anyone. He acted in the best interests of FirstEnergy’s customers and its employees and investors, and never betrayed their trust.
Yost said a grand jury in Summit County, where Akron is located, indicted Jones and Dowling on Friday and that both men had promised to turn themselves in to the Summit County Jail on Monday but failed to do so. . Jones said through his attorney that he was in Akron when the comment was made, awaiting instructions from the court on how to proceed. He and Dowling were expected to be arraigned Tuesday.
Monday’s announcement also included additional charges against Sam Randazzo, former chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, who already faces 11 counts centered on allegations that he accepted bribes -wine from Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. in exchange for regulatory favors.
Jones, Dowling and Randazzo face a total of 27 new charges announced by Yost, including bribery, theft, engaging in corrupt activity, falsifying records and money laundering.
Randazzo resigned in November 2020 after FBI agents searched his Columbus townhouse and FirstEnergy revealed in security documents that it had paid him $4.3 million for his future assistance to the commission a months before Republican Gov. Mike DeWine named him Ohio’s top utility regulator. The indictment names two companies he operated: Industrial Energy Users-Ohio and Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio, the entity through which the $4.3 million payment was made.
Dowling disputed Yost’s allegations that the payment represented any form of bribe, vowing to prove his innocence at trial.
He said the sum represented the final annual payment of 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 had been taken by FirstEnergy’s legal and rate authorities. ministries, not by Dowling himself.
“The allegations in this indictment are completely false and are not supported by any credible evidence,” John McCaffrey, one of his lawyers, said in a statement. “It is shocking that a prosecution would issue an irresponsible indictment and have no evidence to support the accusations made in the indictment. »
Monday’s indictments mark the latest development in what has been called the largest corruption case in Ohio history.
Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was sentenced in June to 20 years in prison for his role in orchestrating the scheme, and lobbyist Matt Borges, former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, was sentenced to five years.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cincinnati indicted three other people on racketeering charges in July 2020. Lobbyist Juan Cespedes and Jeffrey Longstreth, one of Householder’s top political strategists, pleaded guilty in October 2020 and are awaiting sentencing. The third person arrested, state lobbyist Neil Clark, pleaded not guilty before committing suicide in March 2021. The dark money group used to funnel FirstEnergy’s money, Generation Now, also pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge in February 2021.
All were accused of using the $60 million in cash secretly funded by FirstEnergy to elect Householder’s chosen Republican candidates to the House in 2018, then to help him be elected president in January 2019. The money was then used to gain passage of the tainted energy bill. , House Bill 6, and leading what officials called a $38 million campaign of dirty tricks to prevent a repeal referendum from reaching the ballot.
Yost asked a Columbus judge to add Jones, Dowling and Randazzo to a state-level lawsuit his office filed against FirstEnergy in July 2021.
“This indictment involves more than one piece of legislation,” Yost said Monday. “This is the hostile capture of a significant portion of Ohio state government through deception, treason and dishonesty.”
An 81-page FBI criminal complaint from July 2020 details how executives at Akron-based FirstEnergy interacted with Householder and others charged in the scheme, as well as identifying 84 telephone contacts between Jones and the former speaker and 14 telephone contacts between Dowling and Householder.
FirstEnergy admitted its role in the bribery scheme as part of a July 2021 deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The company agreed to pay $230 million in fines and complete a long list of reforms within three years to avoid criminal prosecution on federal conspiracy charges.
A statement of facts signed by current FirstEnergy CEO and Chairman Steven Strah details the involvement of Jones, Dowling, Randazzo and others in the bribery scheme. Randazzo’s lawyers called the allegations in the document mere “hearsay” intended to keep the energy giant out of legal hot water.
Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-reported issues.
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