Former FirstEnergy execs, ex-regulator indicted in Ohio bribery scandal

(Reuters) -Two former FirstEnergy Corp executives, including ousted CEO Chuck Jones, and a former state utility regulator have been indicted in a public corruption case linked to a legislative bill to bail out Ohio's nuclear power plants, state Attorney General Dave Yost said on Monday.

A Summit County, Ohio, grand jury indicted former Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Samuel Randazzo, Charles "Chuck" Jones and former Senior Vice President of External Affairs of FirstEnergy Michael Dowling. The trio are charged with a combined 27 felony counts.

The indictments are connected to 2019 legislation, which was later revoked, on nuclear subsidies and other policies that would benefit electric utility FirstEnergy.

“This indictment is about more than one piece of legislation,” Yost said. “It is about the hostile capture of a significant portion of Ohio's state government by deception, betrayal and dishonesty."

The state charges are the first criminal charges against Jones and Dowling, while Randazzo and others were also indicted and prosecuted in federal court.

An attorney for Jones said her client did not violate the law and had acted in the best interest of FirstEnergy and its investors.

“When those facts are presented, they will set the record straight and restore the excellent reputation that Mr. Jones built over a lifetime of service to Ohio electric customers, FirstEnergy employees, his industry, and his community,” Jones' lawyer Carole Rendon said.

"Today, FirstEnergy is a different, stronger company with new leadership, a sound strategy and a best-in-class compliance program," FirstEnergy spokesperson Jennifer Young said in response to the indictments. The company is cooperating with the Ohio Attorney General's office, Young added.

FirstEnergy had previously admitted to paying a combined $64 million to then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and Randazzo through entities controlled by the pair in exchange for favorable legislation and regulatory treatment.

Jones was fired from FirstEnergy in 2020 after federal officials accused Householder of racketeering.

PUCO has four ongoing investigations of its own, spokesperson Matt Schilling said. Schilling added that it was important to the commission that its investigations do not interfere with state or federal probes.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney and Nicole Jao in New York and Roshia Sabu in Bengaluru; Editing by Tasim Zahid, Mark Porter and Bill Berkrot)