COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost plans to hunt down assets of former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo as part of a civil racketeering case tied to the ongoing FirstEnergy Corp. public corruption case.
Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher Brown on Thursday granted Yost, a Republican, a court order empowering his office to seize up to $8 million worth of Randazzo’s assets following the veteran energy consultant/lobbyist and ex-PUCO chairman’s transfer of five residential properties worth a combined $5.3 million from early February through late May.
The pre-judgment attachment is designed to freeze the proceeds of those transactions and authorize a search for other assets pending the outcome of the state’s case, which is stayed pending completion of the federal criminal cases.
“Randazzo is making moves that will make it harder to hold him financially accountable for accepting bribes,” Yost said in a Friday morning news release. “As the federal investigation continues, we need to make sure that his assets are available for recovery (in the civil case) when his time comes to pay.”
According to the news release, the list of properties consisted of a single-family home in Grandview Heights – just north and west of downtown Columbus – sold to his son; a second home sold in the nearby village of Marble Cliff; a condo and single-family home sold in Naples, Florida; and a condo sold in Cuyahoga Falls near Akron.
Yost’s office on August 5 added Randazzo to its September 2020 civil lawsuit along with since-fired FirstEnergy CEO Charles Jones and Senior Vice President Michael Dowling as well as several entities associated with Randazzo, whom Republican Ohio Governor Mike DeWine had appointed to the PUCO in February 2019.
That expansion of the list of defendants came in the wake of Akron-based FirstEnergy’s admission on July 22 it had committed conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a scheme designed to elect legislators who would support the passage of House Bill (HB) 6, legislation that included having electric utility customers statewide pay for a $1 billion bailout of its two, financially troubled nuclear power plants in Oak Harbor and Perry, Ohio through hikes in their electric bills.
(Those powerplants now belong to a former FirstEnergy subsidiary.)
FirstEnergy agreed to a $230 million fine in the deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors in which the company said it had paid Randazzo – appointed by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine in February 2019 – $4.3 million to help craft HB 6 and assist in gaining favorable PUCO rulings as chairman.
That scheme alleges the funneling of FirstEnergy campaign cash through so-called dark money entities to influence the election of Ohio House members supportive of the legislation.
Federal prosecutors indicted FirstEnergy, former Republican Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, and others in the bribery scheme in July 2020, a year after the passage of HB 6.
Randazzo has maintained his innocence. Attempts to reach Randazzo through email and phone calls to his Columbus attorney, Roger Sugarman, were not successful before the deadline.
Householder lost his leadership post after the indictment but went on to win re-election to his Ohio House seat in November 2020. The Republican-controlled House then voted in June to expel Householder, who has denied any wrongdoing.
The Ohio General Assembly repealed the portion of the bill involving the customer assessments for the nuclear power plants earlier this year. The General Assembly gave final approval of that legislation, House Bill 128, in late March. Governor DeWine signed the bill in April.
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Brian Ball is a reporter for The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Send tips to [email protected]