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Former PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo indicted for taking $4.3 million in bribes from energy company

Sam Randazzo, former PUCO Chair, on "The State of Ohio"
Statehouse News Bureau
Sam Randazzo, former PUCO Chair, on "The State of Ohio"

Former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chair Sam Randazzo plead not guilty to charges alleging he took $4.3 million in bribes from an energy company while he lead the government arm charged with regulating utility companies.

Randazzo, 74, surrendered to authorities in Cincinnati Monday at the U.S. District Court and plead guilty to the charges. Randazzo was charged with 11 counts, including one count of conspiring to commit travel act bribery and honest services wire fraud, two counts of travel act bribery, two counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of wire fraud and five counts of making illegal monetary transactions.

WOSU has not yet heard back from Randazzo's attorney.

Randazzo served as chairman of PUCO from April 2019 until November 2020, when he resigned days after the FBI raided his home in Columbus. He had just been implicated in a FirstEnergy report that said several former executives improperly made a $4 million payment last year to a firm tied to a future Ohio utility regulator.

The indictment alleges he received more than $4.3 million from the energy company and its affiliates to provide favorable official actions for the company through PUCO proceedings.

Randazzo is one of several public officials to face charges in the federal corruption investigation involving FirstEnergy, former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, and several top lobbyists. Householder wasfound guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison in Juneand lobbyist Matt Borges, a former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, was sentenced to five years.

Lobbyist Juan Cespedes and Jeffrey Longstreth, a top Householder political strategist, pleaded guilty in October 2020. The third person arrested, statehouse lobbyist Neil Clark, pleaded not guilty before dying by suicide in March 2021. The dark money group used to funnel FirstEnergy money, Generation Now, also pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge in February 2021.

All were accused of using the $60 million in secretly funded FirstEnergy cash to get Householder’s chosen Republican candidates elected to the House in 2018 and then to help him get elected speaker in January 2019. The money was then used to win passage of the tainted energy bill, House Bill 6, and to conduct what authorities have said was a $38 million dirty-tricks campaign to prevent a repeal referendum from reaching the ballot.

“Public officials – whether elected or appointed – are tasked with upholding the highest level of integrity in their duties and responsibilities. Such service to the public must be selfless, not selfish,” U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker said in a statement. “Through the indictment unsealed today, we seek to hold Randazzo accountable for his alleged illegal activities."

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine's Press Secretary Dan Tierney said in statement that while DeWine was not privy to the indictment and has not yet reviewed it, the indictment alleges very serious acts.

"Our office has full faith in the criminal justice system to adjudicate these serious allegations in an appropriate manner," Tierney said.

The indictment alleged that Randazzo received the bribe money from FirstEnergy through his consulting business, Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio, Inc., or SFA, which was registered in Ohio in March 2010. It said Randazzo also used SFA to carry out an embezzlement scheme, funneling to himself at least $1 million meant for an association of large, industrial energy users in Ohio.

Randazzo was the general counsel for SFA from 2010 until his PUCO appointment and was the industry group's executive director in charge of controlling its bank accounts.

The indictment alleges Randazzo included language in a PUCO opinion and order to address a concerning issue FirstEnergy had coming up in 2024.

“Stock is gonna get hit with Ohio 2024. Need Sam to get rid of the ’Ohio 2024 hole,’” an energy executive text message read. Another messaged that they had spoken to Sam and he "(t)old me 2024 issue will be handled next Thursday.”

FirstEnergy spokesperson Jennifer Young said in a statement that the company can’t comment on the actions taken by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio. But Young said FirstEnergy has taken significant steps to put past issues behind the company.

"Today we are a different, stronger company with a sound strategy and focused on a bright future," Young said.

Randazzo allegedly entered into settlements with companies through SFA and kept portions of the settlement payments for himself. Randazzo allegedly created a fictitious member of the industry group that received payments along with legitimate members in order to conceal these embezzlements.

The indictment states that in March 2019, Randazzo allegedly attempted to conceal his embezzling by wiring approximately $1.1 million between bank accounts that were under his control.

If Randazzo is convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

For more about Randazzo, listen to WOSU's The Power Grab podcast. Episode 5 examines Randazzo's role in the bribery scandal.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.