Consumer advocates: New facts demand fresh FirstEnergy audit

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Advocates for electricity consumers in Ohio are asking the state’s utility regulatory board to reopen one of its audits of Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. after discovering evidence that the first review didn’t look at whether money the company has admitted funneling into a $60 million bribery scheme came from its customers.

In a Public Utilities Commission of Ohio filing posted Monday, the advocates said the supplemental audit they are requesting also needs to take a second “shocking new revelation” into consideration: A March 2020 text message exchange between FirstEnergy executives detailing favors delivered to the company by the commission’s former chair, Sam Randazzo.

The Office of Ohio Consumers’ Counsel and Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council said the texts seem to reflect a corporate separation violation between FirstEnergy and FirstEnergy Advisors, “if not other types of violations,” as well as improper communication between the utility and Randazzo, whose job was to regulate the company.

The texts were between FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones and senior vice president Dennis Chack — who have since been fired.

The other piece of evidence included in the filing was a Nov. 13, 2020, email from a commission staffer. The employee answered “no” when potential bidders on the audit asked if the review would involve examining the source of funds for FirstEnergy’s political and charitable spending on House Bill 6, the tainted nuclear plant bailout at the heart of the alleged bribery scheme, and whether those were provided by consumers.

The commission has four open and pending investigations, three of which focus on what HB6-related activities may have been included in utility rates. One review found $6.6 million due in refunds and the need to discount $7 million off future annual rate calculations. Another has comments due later this month.

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