Federal authorities say Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. would pay a $230 million penalty and fully cooperate as part of an agreement announced Thursday to settle federal charges against the company in a sweeping bribery scheme in Ohio
CINCINNATI — The energy giant at the center of a $60 million bribery scheme in Ohio admitted to riveting new details of its role in the conspiracy Thursday as part of a settlement agreement with federal prosecutors, including how it used secret dark money groups to fund the effort and paid a soon-to-be top utility regulator to write the legislation it got in exchange.
Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. is charged with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud under the deal, which is the subject of a news briefing scheduled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cincinnati and the FBI.
The deferred settlement agreement requires the company to pay a $230 million penalty, make public any new payments it’s aware of that were intended to influence a public official and continue an internal makeover of its ethics practices. In exchange, the government will end its criminal prosecution of the company. The deal would be executed in 30 days, once its conditions are all met.
The deal, signed by FirstEnergy President and CEO Steven Strah, comes in a scandal that has affected business and politics across Ohio since the arrests a year ago Wednesday of then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four associates. The government says Householder orchestrated a plan to accept corporate money for personal and political use in exchange for passing nuclear bailout legislation and scuttling an effort to repeal the bill.
Thursday’s deal requires FirstEnergy to issue a public statement acknowledging the role of dark money groups, known as 501(c)(4) corporations, in the scheme. The statement says the company used them “as a mechanism to conceal payments for the benefit of public officials and in return for official action.”
New details revealed as part of the filing show one of the dark money groups, Partners for Progress, appeared to be independent while actually being controlled by FirstEnergy. The company admits to hand-picking the organization’s three leaders, who included Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s now-top lobbyist Dan McCarthy, and funneling $15 million in FirstEnergy cash through the nonprofit to Generation Now.
FirstEnergy in the last year has fired six high-ranking executives, including CEO Chuck Jones.
A statement of facts filed Thursday said the company paid a public official $4.3 million through his consulting company to further the company’s interests while he worked as Ohio’s top utility regulator, “relating to the passage of nuclear legislation,” and the firms other legislative priorities. That official is known to be former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chair Sam Randazzo.
Randazzo resigned from the PUCO last November after FBI agents searched his Columbus townhome and FirstEnergy revealed the payment to end a consulting agreement with his company.
Messages seeking comment were left Thursday with Randazzo and the office of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who appointed Randazzo to the utilities commission. Neither Randazzo nor Jones have been charged criminally.
The statement of facts lays out in details the actions taken by Jones, Randazzo and then-House Speaker Larry Householder, referred to as “Public Official A” to help Householder’s supporters get elected, win passage of the energy legislation and fund a dirty tricks campaign to stop a repeal referendum from reaching the ballot.
According to the statement, “Primary among FirstEnergy Corp.’s priorities was the passage of nuclear legislation.”