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Text Messages Between Former FirstEnergy Execs Leads To Call For New Audit

The Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station on Lake Erie.
Ron Schwane
Associated Press

The office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel is calling for an investigation into text messages exchanged by former top executives at FirstEnergy.

The OCC is renewing its call for an audit to look into possible corporate separation violations between FirstEnergy and its affiliates.

This is based on a text message exchange it obtained between former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones and Dennis Chack, former manager of a FirstEnergy affiliate known as FirstEnergy Advisors.

The two men text about the goals of their companies with Jones writing then-PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo will "get it done" for them.

Jones goes on to write Randazzo "cannot just jettison" the process because there was "a lot of talk going on in the halls of PUCO about does he work there or for us?"

Text messages between former FirstEnergy executives.
Office Of The Ohio Consumers' Counsel
Text messages between former FirstEnergy executives.

The text included several priorities for FirstEnergy including decoupling, the significantly excessive earnings test and the distribution modernization rider.

In September 2020, the OCC called for an audit into FirstEnergy's relationship with FirstEnergy Advisors.

The new filing with the PUCO by the OCC, joined by the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council, said "Because the auditor has not had the opportunity to investigate the recently disclosed communications seemingly between regulated and non-regulated senior officials and the effect of the House Bill 6 scandal on corporate separations, the audit should be supplemented."

FirstEnergy has said it bribed Randazzo with $4 million before he became chair. Randazzo has said he did nothing wrong and he has yet to be charged with a crime.

A previous audit into FirstEnergy' corporate separation found a few "minor non-compliance issues."

Federal prosecutors allege FirstEnergy funneled millions of dollars to a 501(c)4 which was controlled by former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder. According to the charges, Householder used that money for personal and political gain, and then pushed for passage of HB6, a nuclear bailout bill in 2019.

Two people accused in that case, lobbyist Juan Cespedes and Householder strategist Jeff Longstreth, have pleaded guilty. The 501(c)4, Generation Now, has also accepted a plea deal. Lobbyist Neil Clark was also facing charges, but died by suicide in March. Householder and former Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges have both maintained their innocence.

In July, FirstEnergy agreed to pay a $230 million penalty after entering into a deferred prosecution agreement for the justice department.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.