Regulators expand audit to include payment to former chair

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s utilities commission on Wednesday expanded an ongoing audit to include examining whether customers funded a $4.3 million payment from FirstEnergy Corp. to an utilities attorney who was subsequently appointed chairman of the commission by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approved a staff request for the expanded audit without comment Wednesday.

The former chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is attorney Samuel Randazzo. He resigned in November days after the FBI searched his Columbus townhome and FirstEnergy disclosed the multimillion dollar payment in a securities filing.

FirstEnergy is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission after being accused of secretly funding a $60 million bribery scheme to help pass tainted energy legislation in 2019.

In a separate filing also in November, FirstEnergy disclosed that the $4.3 million payment resulted in the unnamed regulator acting “at the request or for the benefit” of the company. The regulator has been identified as Randazzo.

Randazzo declined to comment on Wednesday.

FirstEnergy has also said in filings that certain payments were improperly classified, misallocated to its utility companies or lacked supporting documentation. It did not disclose more information publicly about who else was paid or the amount of those payments.

The expanded audit will determine whether customers should be reimbursed for any improper payments for the unsupported payments.

The utility commission’s ongoing audit of FirstEnergy’s three Ohio electric companies is reviewing a customer cost recovery mechanism for annual distribution system and infrastructure investments.