Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday he only learned of an alleged bribe from FirstEnergy Corp. to the state’s top utility regulator after he appointed him to the post.
Akron-based FirstEnergy said last week in a statement of facts document that it paid former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chairman Sam Randazzo and his companies $22 million between 2010 and 2019, including a $4.33 million payment on Jan. 2, 2019. Fifteen days later, Randazzo applied for a seat on the PUCO, an enormously powerful board that regulates public utilities, including FirstEnergy.
DeWine, who appointed Randazzo to lead the PUCO on Feb. 4, 2019, said Monday he knew Randazzo had worked for FirstEnergy but he was unaware of the $4.33 million payment until Randazzo disclosed it to DeWine’s chief of staff in the fall of 2020. DeWine initially said the disclosure came in October 2020 but then said he was uncertain of the exact date.
“My understanding is that relationship had been terminated … Look, Mr. Randazzo was asked by people on my team: do you have any conflict?” DeWine said, answering questions from reporters. “And the answer he gave was ‘No.'”
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In November 2020, FBI agents searched Randazzo’s condo and FirstEnergy told the Securities and Exchange Commission about the $4.3 million payment. He resigned later that week on Nov. 21.
Randazzo issued a statement last week, saying he did nothing wrong.
DeWine also said Monday he doesn’t think anyone in his administration is named by pseudonyms in the deferred prosecution document in which FirstEnergy admitted to bribing Randazzo and former House speaker Larry Householder. Householder has pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges. Randazzo has not been charged with any crime.
“I read it quickly. I’m not going to tell you I studied it,” the governor said of the 49-page document. He noted that he looked at the sections that referenced State Official 1 and State Official 2 but said he doesn’t believe those pseudonyms describe him or Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.
“I would not recognize me from that,” he said. Husted said the same.
Prosecutors used three dozen pseudonyms to describe elected officials, company executives and other individuals involved in the case.
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DeWine said FirstEnergy executives did not push him to put Randazzo on the PUCO. He said he doesn’t recall what topics were discussed when DeWine and Husted dined with then FirstEnergy Chief Executive Chuck Jones and Senior Vice President Michael Dowling on Dec. 18, 2018.
At the time, DeWine and Husted had won the election and were preparing to take office.
The statement of facts signed by FirstEnergy said the company lobbied for Randazzo’s appointment.
On Jan. 28, 2019, then FirstEnergy Chief Executive Chuck Jones texted another executive about the status of Randazzo’s PUCO appointment. “Executive 2’s reply indicated he spoke with State Official 2 and ‘no decision but that he had a great conversation with the Gov this morning,'” the statement of facts says.
The DeWine campaign this week donated $130,473 it had received in contributions from FirstEnergy sources to the Ohio Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs.
Other contributions that FirstEnergy and FirstEnergy Solutions made to independent groups, such as the Republican Governors Association or Securing Ohio’s Future, are not controlled by DeWine. Securing Ohio’s Future and Protecting Ohio are two 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations that advocated for DeWine’s election as well as his daughter’s run for Greene County prosecutor. Both entities, which have since dissolved, received contributions from FirstEnergy sources.
Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.