Ohio regulators expand audit to include payments to former chair

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s utilities commission approved without comment on Wednesday the expansion of 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 attorney and now former chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is Samuel Randazzo, who resigned in November — just days after the FBI searched his Columbus townhome and FirstEnergy disclosed the 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 get tainted energy legislation approved in 2019.

In a separate filing in November, FirstEnergy disclosed the $4.3 million payment resulted in the unnamed regulator acting “at the request or for the benefit” of the company.

Randazzo declined to comment on Wednesday.

FirstEnergy has also said that certain payments were improperly classified, misallocated to its utility companies or lacked supporting documentation.

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

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