DeWine backs PUCO chairman, says no indication he’s under federal investigation

Federal agents bring out boxes after searching a Columbus condo owned by Sam Randazzo, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff
Federal agents bring out boxes after searching a Columbus condo owned by Sam Randazzo, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday said he has no indication that PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo is the target of a federal investigation, despite the fact that FBI agents executed a search warrant this week at Randazzo’s condo in Columbus.

DeWine, who appointed Randazzo to lead the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in April 2019, said he has not discussed the situation with Randazzo.

“We have no indication that he’s under investigation or that he’s the target of an investigation. We’ll wait until we find additional facts,” DeWine said.

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When asked how an early morning search and confiscation of boxes of material doesn’t indicate someone is the target, DeWine said: “Look, the FBI many times will indicate if someone is a target. They have not indicated he’s a target. I have no reason to think he’s a target. I don’t know. So, we’re waiting for additional information, quite candidly. I hired him. I think he’s a good person. If there is evidence to the contrary, we’ll act accordingly, but not going to act without facts."

Randazzo could not be reached for comment.

FBI Cincinnati spokesman Todd Lindgren declined to comment.

ExploreFBI agents searched PUCO chairman's home, hauled off boxes of material

The five-member PUCO regulates telecommunications, natural gas and electric companies. Randazzo’s annual salary is $160,000.

Randazzo has been heavily involved in Ohio energy policy for the past five decades.

His state 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.

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.

Randazzo has not been charged.

House lawmakers are expected to hold hearings this week on legislation that would partially repeal HB6.

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Several consumer and environmental groups called on DeWine to remove Randazzo. Ohio Citizen Action and other groups said in a joint statement: “Enough is enough. How is Sam Randazzo going to oversee energy issues at the Public Utilities Commission in a fair and ethical way with an FBI investigation ongoing? There’s been enough energy and utility corruption in Ohio — it’s time Governor DeWine cleans house and removes Sam Randazzo immediately.”

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