Former PUCO chairman charged in multi-million dollar bribery scheme

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Samuel Randazzo was charged with crimes related to bribery and embezzlement, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.

Randazzo, 74, self-surrendered in federal court in Cincinnati this morning following charges from an 11-count indictment returned by a grand jury on Nov. 29. He will be schedule for an initial appearance later today.

Randazzo is charged with one count of conspiring to commit travel act bribery and honest services wire fraud, two counts of travel act bribery, two counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of wire fraud and five counts of making illegal monetary transactions, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Randazzo allegedly received more than $4.3 million from an energy company and its affiliates to provide favorable official actions for the company through PUCO proceedings, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Public officials – whether elected or appointed – are tasked with upholding the highest level of integrity in their duties and responsibilities. Such service to the public must be selfless, not selfish,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker. “Through the indictment unsealed today, we seek to hold Randazzo accountable for his alleged illegal activities.”

An indictment is an allegation. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine appointed Randazzo as PUCO chairman in 2019. Randazzo resigned the post in November 2020 after FBI agents searched his condo and Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission that it paid $4.3 million in January 2019 to someone who was appointed in February 2019 as an Ohio utility regulator.

“Today’s indictment outlines an alleged scheme in which a public regulatory official ignored the Ohio consumers he was responsible for protecting, instead taking a bribe from an energy company seeking favors,” FBI Cincinnati Special Agent in Charge J. William Rivers said in a statement today. “The FBI will remain vigilant in investigating allegations of corruption at all levels of government and hold those who violate the law accountable for their actions.”

Randazzo’s indictment follows the convictions of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges for crimes related to the FirstEnergy bribery scheme, the largest corruption scandal in Ohio history.

Householder was sentenced in June to 20 years in prison for conspiring to receive nearly $61 million in bribes to pass and uphold a billion-dollar nuclear plant bailout. Borges was sentenced to five years for his part in the scheme.

“The indictment of former Public Utilities Commission Chair Sam Randazzo is an important step to bring justice to Ohio utility consumers,” said Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Maureen Willis in a statement today. “It underscores the need for near-term reform of the PUCO selection process that led to his appointment as chair of the PUCO. OCC’s calls for reform so far have gone unanswered. Ohioans deserve better from the public officials in this state.”

Texts among energy execs among evidence against Randazzo

Evidence in Randazzo’s case includes text messages among energy executives.

In November 2019, for example, it is alleged that Randazzo included language in a PUCO Opinion and Order that would address issues the energy company was concerned about happening in 2024.

“Stock is gonna get hit with Ohio 2024. Need Sam to get rid of the ‘Ohio 2024 hole,’” an energy executive text message read, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Another executive messaged, in part: “I spoke with Sam today. Told me 2024 issue will be handled next Thursday.” The next Thursday, the PUCO decision included language alleviating the 2024 issue, federal officials say.

The U.S. Attorney’s Offices says another text message in March 2020 from an energy executive says that Randazzo “will get it done for us but cannot just jettison all process … a lot of talk going on in the halls of PUCO about does he work there or for us? He’ll move it as fast as he can.”

The federal charges allege Randazzo received the bribe money from the energy company through his consulting business, Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio Inc. (SFA). SFA was registered in Ohio in March 2010, and SFA filings name Randazzo as the president and sole representative of the business and lists Randazzo’s home address as the business address, the charges say.

The charging document alleges that Randazzo funneled to himself at least a million dollars meant for an association of large, industrial energy users in Ohio. They say Randazzo was general counsel of the industry group for years, and at times served as its executive director.

Federal charges allege Randazzo entered into settlements with companies on behalf of the industry group and kept portions of the settlement payments for himself. As one method to conceal his alleged embezzling, Randazzo allegedly created a fictitious member of the industry group that received payments along with legitimate members, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

For example, in March 2019, it is alleged Randazzo attempted to conceal his embezzling by wiring approximately $1.1 million between bank accounts under his control.

This story will be updated as information becomes available.

About the Author