Agents search PUCO chairman’s home

COLUMBUS — Federal agents searched Monday morning a Columbus condo owned by Sam Randazzo, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Todd Lindgren, spokesman for the FBI Cincinnati bureau, said agents conducted court-authorized law enforcement activity in that area. It’s related to a sealed federal search warrant, he said, and declined to provide further details.

Randazzo didn’t responded to a call seeking comment. Matt Schilling, a spokesman for PUCO, said he had no information and declined to comment.

In February 2019, Gov. Mike DeWine appointed Randazzo to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which regulates telecommunications, natural gas and electric companies. Randazzo also chairs the Ohio Power Siting Board.

“We are aware of the search warrant. We are monitoring this as it progresses, but we have no further comment at this time,” Dan Tierney, the governor’s spokesman said.

The governor’s office learned of the search warrant Monday morning, Tierney said.

Prior to his PUCO appointment, Randazzo was a long-time partner at McNeese, Wallace & Nurick law firm.

Ohio Democrats released a statement Monday calling the raid part of a widening Statehouse bribery scandal.

The raid follows subpoenas sent to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and Ohio Secretary of State, and federal corruption charges against five men, including the former speaker of the Ohio House and former Ohio GOP chairman.

“Federal investigators are finally looking into the pay-to-play culture of the Republican-led Statehouse and Republicans in state government, and it’s likely they’ll find that if they pull a string here, the whole thing will unravel,” Ohio Democratic Party Communications Director Kirstin Alvanitakis said.

The Ohio Republican Party has not responded to a request for comment.

Randazzo has been heavily involved in Ohio energy policy for the past five decades. He began his career as a staff attorney at the PUCO and later as an assistant attorney general before entering private practice. He has represented Industrial Energy Users-Ohio since 1992, and he has been a critic of Ohio’s renewable energy mandates put in place in 2008.

His ethics statement discloses ownership in two consulting businesses: Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio and IEU Administration Co. Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio did work for FirstEnergy Solutions, according to federal bankruptcy filings.

As PUCO chairman, Randazzo is a state employee paid $76.92 per hour, according to his personnel records obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

Federal prosecutors in July arrested five men involved in House Bill 6, a new law that will deliver more than $1.3 billion in subsidies and other revenues to Akron-based FirstEnergy and its former subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions, which emerged from bankruptcy this year under the name Energy Harbor. Federal authorities allege that unnamed utility companies, identified by descriptions as FirstEnergy and FirstEnergy Solutions, funneled more than $60 million in bribes through dark money groups to position Republican Larry Householder to return as Ohio House speaker and then pass and defend House Bill 6.

Householder, lobbyist Neil Clark, and former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges have pleaded not guilty to federal racketeering charges. Lobbyist Juan Cespedes and political strategist Jeff Longstreth pleaded guilty on Oct. 29.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and U.S. Department of Justice are investigating FirstEnergy and Energy Harbor over the companies' advocacy for House Bill 6.

In late October, FirstEnergy fired its chief executive Chuck Jones and two senior vice presidents Mike Dowling and Dennis Chack. Two top legal executives, Robert Reffner and Ebony Yeboah-Amankwah, also left the company in early November.

FirstEnergy and Energy Harbor have not been charged in the case but each have said they are cooperating with investigators.

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