Plain Dealer: Randazzo Told DeWine Chief of Staff About Bribery Payment
DeWine is either lying about what he knew about Randazzo and FirstEnergy, incompetent, or both.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer has uncovered new details about last week's bombshell news that Mike DeWine was warned about Sam Randazzo's corrupt ties to FirstEnergy before he appointed him to chair the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio....a position Randazzo later used to accept millions in bribes from none other than FirstEnergy.
According to the Plain Dealer, DeWine was warned in January 2019 by a former campaign aide that if DeWine appointed Randazzo to PUCO, "he would come to regret it." A DeWine spokesman confirmed to the Plain Dealer that DeWine was "aware" of the concerns...yet DeWine appointed him anyway.
Shockingly, the Plain Dealer notes Randazzo told DeWine's own Chief of Staff about the bribery payment in October 2020, a month before the FBI raided his home.
Jim Renacci released the following statement:
"There is NO way Mike DeWine's Chief of Staff knew about Randazzo's ties with FirstEnergy and Mike DeWine did not. He's either lying, incompetent, or both. The FirstEnergy noose continues to tighten around Mike DeWine."
Gov. Mike DeWine was cautioned about Sam Randazzo before PUCO appointment
Cleveland Plain Dealer
April 10, 2022
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Shortly after Gov. Mike DeWine took office in January 2019, a former DeWine campaign staffer called the new governor to express concern about appointing Sam Randazzo to chair the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, according to a source familiar with the conversation.
DeWine told the attorney, J.B. Hadden, to speak with his then-chief of staff, Laurel Dawson, according to the source. Hadden, a longtime friend of DeWine and his 2014 campaign treasurer, then met with Dawson and three other DeWine staffers on Jan. 28 -- within days of Hadden’s call to DeWine -- to lay out his concerns, according to DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney.
The details are the latest revelations about concerns expressed to DeWine, a Greene County Republican, and his administration before he made Randazzo, a veteran utilities lawyer, the top utilities regulator in the state. Last year, FirstEnergy admitted to paying Randazzo more than $22 million in bribes, though Randazzo has denied wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged to date in the investigation.
The source said Hadden called DeWine out of concern that if the governor appointed Randazzo, he would come to regret it. At the same time, however, Hadden performed legal and consulting work for AEP Ohio, another prominent Ohio utility, and was involved with AEP-funded dark-money groups that ended up giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations involved with the scandal-ridden House Bill 6 and Larry Householder, the former Ohio House speaker now facing a federal corruption charge.
Tierney said while “J.B. Hadden is a person that the governor speaks with regularity,” DeWine doesn’t specifically remember Hadden’s call about Randazzo, which the source said lasted for less than a minute.
“But the governor can confirm he was aware of JB Hadden’s concerns regarding Mr. Randazzo,” Tierney said, adding that he wasn’t sure how the governor knew of those concerns or whether he knew of them before the Jan. 28 meeting.
Hadden met with Dawson, then-director of cabinet affairs Ryan Burgess, DeWine’s chief legal counsel Matt Donahue, and the governor’s then-policy director Michael Hall in a “fairly impromptu” fashion, Tierney said.
Dawson is a former business partner of ex-FirstEnergy lobbyist Josh Rubin, and her husband has long done consulting work for the Akron-based utility.
Tierney said it was clear to DeWine administration officials that Hadden attended the meeting on behalf of his client, AEP Ohio. According to the source, Hadden acknowledged during the meeting the conflict brought by his AEP lobbying work, but he said he didn’t seek the meeting at the direction of AEP, according to the source. The meeting was first reported by the Ohio Capital Journal.
Hadden came to the meeting with a few pieces of paper, Tierney said, but he delivered two binders of documents after the meeting. The documents, which totaled 198 pages, claimed to show evidence of Randazzo’s “opaque, undisclosed financial ties” to FirstEnergy, the Akron-based utility.
Hadden wrote the two-page cover letter expressing concerns about Randazzo. The rest of the dossier included court cases, tax documents and other information collected by opponents of Randazzo, including environmental groups, according to the source.
Cleveland.com has reached out to Hadden for comment.
The dossier did not explicitly accuse Randazzo of receiving FirstEnergy bribes. However, it stated that Randazzo was “funneling money” from a FirstEnergy subsidiary called FirstEnergy Solutions through a “secret” company called the Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio to buy real estate. “At a minimum, Randazzo should be asked to explain these odd financial transactions and to disclose the full extent of his relationship with SFAO and FirstEnergy,” the dossier stated.
Tierney said administration officials reviewed Hadden’s dossier but found it to be “extremely underwhelming,” as it wasn’t clear who wrote it and contained information “that was largely known” already.
Tierney also noted that whenever the governor has to fill an opening on the PUCO, “there are some people who come out and they oppose people in the energy industry being on the PUCO, period.”
DeWine eventually appointed Randazzo PUCO chair on Feb. 4, 2019.
In November 2020, Randazzo resigned from the PUCO after FBI agents raided his Columbus home. FirstEnergy later revealed that it paid more than $4 million to an entity later revealed to be owned by Randazzo.
Randazzo has said that he only had a consulting agreement with FirstEnergy. Though he hasn’t been charged with any criminal charges, he is one of the numerous defendants in a civil lawsuit filed by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.
DeWine’s administration has said the governor didn’t know about FirstEnergy’s payments to Randazzo until the FBI raid. However, Randazzo told Dawson about the $4.3 million payment in October 2020 after two FirstEnergy executives were fired. A later filing revealed their firings were tied to the payment to Randazzo, which was hidden from company auditors and others within the company.
“My understanding was that (Randazzo’s) relationship (with FirstEnergy) was done,” DeWine said in late 2021. “What we were told by him was that he was coming out of retirement.”