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FBI: FirstEnergy paid private investigators to follow anti-bailout petitioners

Andy Chow

The investigation into a $61 million bribery scheme revealed that FirstEnergy paid for private investigators to follow petitioners who were trying to gather enough signatures to repeal the company’s nuclear power plant bailout, House Bill 6.

The information was made public during the trial of Larry Householder, Republican former Ohio House speaker, and Matt Borges, former FirstEnergy lobbyist and former Ohio Republican Party chair.

Emily Glatfelter, assistant U.S. attorney, showed the jury a series of evidence collected by the FBI. A photograph, taken by a FirstEnergy lobbyist, listed a number of items FirstEnergy intended to pay for through a consulting company.

One of those items was for “PI Recon Work” for up to $140,000. Glatfelter then pulled up an invoice from CGI Investigators. It said investigators set up surveillance of the signature gatherers to establish locations of the petitioners and to track “daily patterns.”

The surveillance work happened in 2019, when Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts was trying to put a referendum on the November ballot to repeal House Bill 6, a nuclear power plant bailout. That referendum issue failed to get on the ballot.

Gene Pierce was a spokesperson for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts. He recalled knowing, at the time, that an anti-referendum campaign had sent several people to block petitioners from gathering signatures.

“One of their goons would start a conversation with our circulator, debating the issue and whatnot, and the other one would intercept anybody walking by so that our circulator couldn't get out of the conversation,” Pierce said. “They were clearly interfering with Ohioans right of free speech. And it was an intimidation tactic.”

Pierce said the revelation in court that FirstEnergy paid a private investigator to track their movements “confirms” what they thought was going on back then.

“But we were still very frustrated that we weren't able to collect the signatures that we could. And that's disappointing that this is coming out now. And we had hoped it would have come out sooner,” said Pierce.

Householder and Borges are accused of playing roles in a $61 million bribery scheme. Prosecutors say FirstEnergy funneled money to a dark money group operated by Householder. He allegedly used that money for personal and political gain in exchange for passing the nuclear power plant bailout.

Householder and Borges have pleaded not guilty. Householder said he never took or accepted a bribe.
Copyright 2023 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

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.