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Consumer advocates call on FirstEnergy to release internal investigations

Workers replace a sign on FirstEnergy headquarters in Akron
Workers replace a sign on FirstEnergy headquarters in Akron.

Advocates for Ohio electric customers are questioning FirstEnergy's commitment to transparency and ethics in the continued wake of the HB 6 nuclear bailout bribery scandal.

The Ohio Consumers' Counsel argues if the company has really changed, it should release its internal investigations into the $60 million bribery case.

FirstEnergy reports the company has turned over a new leaf by restructuring, changing up leadership and implementing new ethics programs.

The company argues its internal reports should not be a part of the public record, or released in any of the open investigations and cases into the company's behavior during the 2019 scandal.

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Ohio Consumers' Counsel Director Maureen Willis said First Energy's refusal to turn over its internal investigations isn't transparent and refutes statements that the company made about its improvements.

“Ohioans, the victims of the FirstEnergy bribery scheme, deserve answers, not just empty words from FirstEnergy that it is ‘redoubling’ its commitment to ‘integrity, openness, and trust,’" she said. "The only redoubling we've seen is a redoubling of FirstEnergy's efforts to block the release of the internal investigation reports. The reports should be released to the public."

Willis said a recent ruling from a federal judge overseeing a civil case could require FirstEnergy to turn the reports over — but the company is appealing the order. There's also a stay on the discovery elements of the case.

Jennifer Young, manager of corporate communications for FirstEnergy said the company doesn't interpret the ruling the same way.

"We disagree with the OCC’s assessment of the district court’s decision," she said in an email. She cites a decision from the special master in the case that the documents are privileged or protected information that doesn't have to be turned over.

The OCC does have a different interpretation.

A news release from the OCC said:

"On May 6, 2024, Judge Marbley of the United States District Court, Southern District of Ohio, overruled FirstEnergy Corp.’s objections to the Special Master’s decision granting a motion to compel FirstEnergy Corp. to produce materials related to its internal investigations into H.B. 6 related matters... The special master had found that ‘FirstEnergy’s internal investigation is not entitled to attorney-client privilege or work-product protections.’ We agree."

FirstEnergy admitted to bribing state officials in exchange for a $1 billion bailout that led to the arrest of then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and other lobbyists. Householder was convicted on federal charges and is serving a 20-year sentence.

Two of the executives the company fired, Mike Dowling and Chuck Jones, are facing state charges of participating in a pattern of corrupt activity. They've pleaded not guilty.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.