FirstEnergy agrees to $230 million penalty in House Bill 6 scandal: Capitol Letter

Power move: A year after the House Bill 6 scandal broke, FirstEnergy Corp. has agreed to pay a $230 million fine for its role in bankrolling the massive bribery scheme. John Caniglia has details on the deferred prosecution agreement the Akron-based utility signed to avoid facing a federal charge of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. Caniglia also names some of the main players who were identified by pseudonyms in the documents unsealed Thursday, including “Public Official A” — former House Speaker Larry Householder, who is accused of orchestrating the House Bill 6 scheme.

The depth of the corruption: Andrew Tobias describes how documents in the case lay out in detail how FirstEnergy officials paid a $4.3 million bribe to former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo in exchange for Randazzo advancing the company’s interests after Gov. Mike DeWine named him as the state’s top public-utilities regulator. The sordid details in the documents reminded us how Randazzo, when he resigned last year, boasted how his actions as chairman had served the public interest.

Giving it back: DeWine announced late Thursday afternoon that his campaign will donate an unspecified amount of contributions from FirstEnergy to charity (though he left unclear whether he will also return donations from FirstEnergy executives and their families). As Jeremy Pelzer reports, the governor also said he and his staff didn’t know the “motives” of Randazzo to improperly help FirstEnergy.

Honest answer: Prosecutors chose to charge FirstEnergy with “honest services wire fraud,” a crime similar to – but not nearly as salacious as – bribery. Pelzer explains what “honest services wire fraud” is, and why FirstEnergy was accused of it.

Must-see TV: FirstEnergy CEO Steve Strah filmed a video for the company’s employees, explaining to them the deferred prosecution agreement in the HB 6 case. Laura Hancock posted the video, where Strah tells employees that if they feel something isn’t right, to talk to their boss or call a helpline. And if you want to dive into the federal documents released Thursday, go here. Or you can catch up with the whole scandal by reading Cliff Pinckard’s timeline here.

House poor: The average Ohio home sale price in June was $256,095, up 17.9% from June 2020. Eric Heisig writes that this is a continuation of a home-buying trend that began in the pandemic, as interest rates have been low, yet there are not enough homes available for sale.

Pot patients: The number of patients who purchased medical marijuana through the state’s licensed dispensaries increased by 3.8% between May and June, according to new figures from the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program, to 174,228 Ohioans. In early June, officials added three new conditions to the list of ailments for which someone can get marijuana: spasticity, Huntington’s disease and terminal illness, bringing the number of qualifying conditions to 25.

Police support: Rocky River GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez and most of the other House of Representatives Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump over his role in the Capitol Hill riot helped to organize and fund an all-expense paid vacation to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone and his family, Politico reports. Gonzalez’s office confirmed the report and said he did so in his personal capacity. Fanone was badly injured in the melee and is expected to testify before the committee that House Democrats assembled to probe the insurrection.

Behind bars: The number of felony offenses has increased in Ohio from 146 in the mid-1970s to 755 in 2021, reports WKSU’s Nahala Bendefaa. Criminal justice advocates say this is a challenge to overall reform – since lawmakers have been focusing on helping people once they leave prison and not doing much to reduce the overall number of people heading there.

Accusations laid bare: After an ethics complaint accusing him of propositioning clients and would-be clients, the Ohio Supreme Court accepted the resignation of Wilmington attorney Richard Lawrence Federle Jr., according to the ABA Journal. Federle was accused of mentioning marriage, calling clients “gorgeous” and “baby doll,” and forcibly kissing a woman and offering to represent her for free if she cleaned his house in the nude.

Question: “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation,” originally applied to another former bellwether state. Name the state.

Email your response to [email protected]. The first correct respondent will be mentioned in next week’s newsletter.

Thanks to everyone who answered last week’s question:

While Ohio is known as the “mother of presidents,” this father of a president was born in Steubenville and eventually became a prominent Presbyterian minister.

Answer: Joseph Ruggles Wilson, father of Woodrow Wilson

Tim Ross, district director for U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, was the first Capitol Letter reader to respond with the correct answer.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, has been endorsed for governor by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199 labor union.

Friday, July 23: Christine Van Kirk, legislative aide to state Rep. Ron Ferguson

Sunday, July 25: Kristin Harris, Ohio House payroll and benefits officer; Martin L. Davey, Ohio’s 53rd governor (1884-1946)

“This effort would not have been possible, both in the nature and volume of money provided, without the use of a 501(c)(4) entity.”

Part of a statement that FirstEnergy must publish on its website and in a press release, which acknowledges the role of dark money in the House Bill 6 scandal, according to its deferred prosecution agreement with the feds.

Capitol Letter is a daily briefing providing succinct, timely information for those who care deeply about the decisions made by state government. If you do not already subscribe, you can sign up here to get Capitol Letter in your email box each weekday for free.

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