As part of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, FirstEnergy, which provides power to customers in five states including Pennsylvania, has admitted to bribing public officials in Ohio.
“FirstEnergy is admitting to its culpability, they’re admitting to the statement of facts, and they have to do a number of things as set out in the agreement,” U.S. Attorney Vipal Patel said at a press conference Thursday.
In an agreement filed in federal court, the company agreed to pay a $230 million penalty. “That’s the largest criminal penalty ever collected, as far as anyone can recall, in the history of this office,” Patel said.
Half of the money will go to the federal government and the other half to a program for people in Ohio who need help paying their utility bills.
If FirstEnergy pays the fine in the next 60 days and continues to assist in the ongoing investigation, the charges against it could be dismissed.
The Dark Money Group at the Center of the Charges
The agreement comes one year after former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four others were indicted on racketeering charges in the same scandal.
According to the July 22 court filing, FirstEnergy donated $59 million to Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit controlled by Householder. This was central to the company’s effort to influence the legislative process in Ohio. As a 501(c)(4), Generation Now was not required to disclose its donors, and there was no ceiling on how much it could donate. This allowed FirstEnergy to conceal its payments to Generation Now. The company has agreed to issue a public statement admitting as much.
Householder is accused of using the donated money to support candidates that would back his bid to become Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives and to push House Bill 6, which included the billion-dollar nuclear bailout. It was approved by the legislature and signed into law in 2019. Opponents wanted to put HB 6 before Ohio voters. The Generation Now funds were then used for advertising to build support for HB 6, and ensure opponents did not get it on the ballot. Two of Householder’s associates have admitted to the federal racketeering charges, while Householder maintains that he is not guilty.
FirstEnergy is also accused of paying $4.3 million to the former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio(PUCO), listed as Public Official B in the filing, but known to be Sam Randazzo. Randazzo resigned his position at the PUCO after federal authorities searched his home last year. He has not been charged. According to the court filing, FirstEnergy pushed for Randazzo to become the PUCO leader so that he could further the company’s interests.
FirstEnergy fired its CEO, Chuck Jones, last year. In a video statement posted after the agreement was announced, current FirstEnergy President and CEO Steve Strah told employees, “This is a humbling moment for our company. And we should take this moment to recognize that this type of conduct, at the highest levels in the company, was wrong and unacceptable.”
FirstEnergy’s stock rose about 4 percent after the charges were filed.