COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the FBI raided the home of Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chairman Sam Randazzo earlier this week, there was no allegation of wrongdoing nor any public acknowledgement that Randazzo planned to resign.
That changed Friday, less than 24 hours after FirstEnergy – the company connected to an FBI corruption investigation into an energy bill – filed a document with the Securities and Exchange Commission detailing a questionable $4 million payment to an individual who used to do consulting and subsequently became appointed to a “full-time role as an Ohio government official directly involved regulating the Ohio companies...”
The SEC document also spelled out why FirstEnergy fired its CEO Chuck Jones last month along with other executives – saying “senior management violated certain FirstEnergy policies” relating to the payment of “approximately $4 million” in connection with the “termination of a purported consulting agreement.”
It’s not clear what the money was for, but the document says it went to an individual who was subsequently appointed to a “full-time role as an Ohio government official directly involved in regulating the Ohio Companies…” – a description that seems to fit Randazzo’s role as the public utilities chairman.
His most recent financial disclosure statement shows he owns a company that did business with FirstEnergy Solutions, a former FirstEnergy subsidiary that emerged from bankruptcy earlier this year as Energy Harbor, the company that now owns the nuclear power plants that were saved by the bailout provided in House Bill 6 – the bill now at the center of an FBI corruption investigation.
Neither FirstEnergy executives nor Randazzo have been accused of wrongdoing, but Randazzo said in his resignation letter that the two events – the FBI raid and the SEC filing – “will, right or wrong, fuel suspicions about and controversy over decisions I may render in my current capacity.”
Gov. DeWine announced the resignation of Randazzo during a news conference Friday.
“I just received the resignation of Sam Randazzo as chairman of PUCO. I want thank him for his work. I appreciate that very, very much,” DeWine said.
Former House Speaker Larry Householder and four other men have been accused of accepting bribes from FirstEnergy and its affiliates in exchange to help pass HB 6.
Two of the men – Juan Cespedes and Jeff Longstreth – have pleaded guilty. The others have entered not guilty pleas.
Friday afternoon, 10TV spoke to Rachel Belz with Ohio Citizen Action, a group opposed to House Bill 6 and the same one that launched a website campaign this summer to oust Randazzo as PUCO chairman.
Belz said she agreed with Randazzo that his continued service would be “distraction” (as Randazzo put in his resignation letter).
She also said she questioned his objectivity to serve as chairman given his long experience as a lobbyist and attorney for energy companies .
“And honestly the best way to say it is we just didn’t trust him.” Belz said.
10TV attempted to contact Randazzo, but were unsuccessful in reaching him Friday.
A PUCO spokesman pointed us to his resignation letter.
Beth Trombold will be the acting PUCO Chairman until a new chairman is named.