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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted subpoenaed in civil suit over bailout scandal

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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted subpoenaed in civil suit over bailout scandal

Nov 28, 2023 | 5:28 pm ET
By Marty Schladen
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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted subpoenaed in civil suit over bailout scandal
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COLUMBUS, OH — MAY 03: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine joined on stage by First Lady Fran DeWine, grandson Calvin, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Second Lady Tina Husted to celebrate DeWine winning the Republican Party nomination for governor in the Ohio primary election, May 3, 2022, at the DeWine-Husted campaign headquarters, Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)

Plaintiffs in a civil suit related to a massive bribery and money-laundering scandal have subpoenaed documents from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and they’re scheduling a sworn deposition with Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.

There have been four criminal convictions so far in the scandal and U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker has said the investigation is continuing. However, there is no indication that DeWine or Husted is an object of it.

Even so, members of the DeWine-Husted administration were significant players in the scandal and DeWine’s nominee to head up the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio could be a target of the probe.

The demands for documents and testimony come in a class-action suit that big investors in Akron-based FirstEnergy filed against the company over its involvement in the scheme. Between 2017 and 2020, the company paid out more than $60 million to gain a $1.3 billion ratepayer bailout that was mostly intended to prop up two failing nuclear plants in Northern Ohio.

Among those already convicted are former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in what federal authorities said might be the biggest bribery and money-laundering scheme in Ohio history. Former state Republican Chairman Matt Borges in June was sentenced to five years for his role.

However, others who played prominent roles in the scandal are yet to be charged. 

They include former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones and former Vice President Michael Dowling, who directed the money to make Householder speaker in 2018 and then pass and and protect House Bill 6, the corrupt bailout legislation. They also include Sam Randazzo, DeWine’s first nominee to chair the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Jones, Dowling and Randazzo deny wrongdoing, but in a deferred prosecution agreement, FirstEnergy said Jones and Dowling paid Randazzo a $4.3 million bribe just as DeWine was selecting Randazzo to be FirstEnergy’s top regulator. In that post, Randazzo helped write the corrupt bailout bill and he helped FirstEnergy avoid a scheduled audit known as a “rate case” that was slated for 2024.

Large investors such as pension and investment funds are suing FirstEnergy over the scandal, arguing that the company violated securities laws by not disclosing its reckless conduct. And then, when the feds made arrests in July 2020, its stock value plummeted — as did their investments.

The plaintiffs in the civil case have been battling with Randazzo — who is not a defendant — since April over whether he has complied with judges’ orders to produce documents relevant to the $4.3 million in FirstEnergy money he received just before he began regulating the company.

A magistrate judge and a special master in the case have consistently rebuked Randazzo for not cooperating more fully, with the most recent instance coming last week. Randazzo appealed up the food chain, asking Magistrate Judge Kimberly Jolson not to hold him to a disclosure order from the special master, Shawn K. Judge.

The plaintiffs in the civil case asked Jolson to make Randazzo comply with Judge’s order to cough up more information. As part of the filing, they provided a table of depositions they’ve scheduled or are in the process of scheduling. To prepare for some, they presumably could use the information and documents they’re demanding of Randazzo.

One deposition they’re scheduling is of Randazzo himself, which has a “target period” of March 4 to March 29.

Another is of Husted, the lieutenant governor, which has a target period of Feb. 28 to March 19. Dave Anderson of the Energy and Policy Institute first flagged the document that listed Husted’s deposition.

Hayley Carducci, Husted’s spokeswoman, on Tuesday said Husted is cooperating.

“We’re aware of the civil investor lawsuit against First Energy,” she said in an email. “The Lt. Governor has already provided public records pertaining to this, and we will continue to comply as we have done in the past. There’s no new information to disclose.”

As with Randazzo, Husted is not a defendant in the civil case.

DeWine also has recently received a subpoena for documents in the civil case. 

“We’re reviewing it with counsel for what can be provided,” Press Secretary Dan Tierney said in an interview. “Our office is subject to the public records act and in a sense this is no different.”

Tierney pointed out a distinction between the class-action suit and the case which has already convicted Householder and Borges and proceedings that could charge others.

“This is a civil case and anybody has a right to bring a civil case if they want,” Tierney said of the proceeding in which the governor’s documents had been subpoenaed. “The civil process is where people say they’ve been damaged and they want the court to award damages. That is far different than the criminal case in which the federal government said public integrity laws had been violated.”

He added, “It still remains in the criminal case that nobody in our office or the lieutenant governor’s office has been questioned or subpoenaed or had any legal filings like that.”

Even in the absence of such requests, DeWine and his administration were involved several ways in the drafting and passage of the corrupt utility bailout:

  • He nominated Randazzo to head up the PUCO a day after it was publicly revealed that FirstEnergy had paid a group controlled by Randazzo millions of dollars over the years. “Forced DeWine/Husted to perform battlefield triage,” FirstEnergy CEO Jones said in a text message to Dowling. “It’s a rough game.”
  • While he was still a FirstEnergy lobbyist, Dan McCarthy set up Partners for Progress, a 501(c)(4) “dark money” group through which Jones, Dowling and others funneled millions into the conspiracy. DeWine hired McCarthy as his legislative affairs director and kept him in that post for a year after Householder and the others were arrested.
  • HB 6, the bailout legislation, was highly controversial as Householder jammed it through the legislature, other lawmakers testified at his trial. Even so, DeWine signed it the day it passed and when Householder was arrested, the governor’s first position was to keep the law in place — and part of it still is. DeWine reversed himself a day later, calling to repeal and replace the subsidies.

Morgan Trau contributed to this report.