FirstEnergy fires another executive over consulting contract

CLEVELAND (AP) — A FirstEnergy senior vice president was fired Thursday for her “inaction” regarding a 2015 amendment to a “purported” consulting contract with someone who was later appointed as Ohio’s top utility regulator, the company announced in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Eileen Mikkelsen’s dismissal makes her the sixth high-ranking FirstEnergy executive fired since the U.S. Department of Justice alleged last July that the company had secretly funded a $60 million bribery scheme aimed at winning legislative approval of a bailout of two nuclear power plants operated at the time by a wholly-owned FirstEnergy subsidiary.

CEO Chuck Jones and two other vice presidents were fired in October for what FirstEnergy said were violations of company policies and its code of conduct. Two of the company’s top attorneys were fired the following month. FirstEnergy did not specify the reason for their dismissals.

Jones was appointed CEO in 2015.

A message seeking comment was left for Mikkelsen on Thursday. A FirstEnergy spokesperson declined to comment about the firing.

While FirstEnergy has not named the regulator in question, it has not been disputed that it was Samuel Randazzo, appointed by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine in early 2019 as chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Randazzo resigned last November after the FBI searched his Columbus townhome and FirstEnergy disclosed it had paid him $4.3 million before his appointment to end a consulting contract in place since 2013.

“FirstEnergy continues to believe that payments under the consulting agreement may have been for purposes other than those represented within the consulting agreement,” according to Thursday’s SEC filing.

FirstEnergy has been engaged in damage control over the last year as it tries to restore is corporate reputation, emphasizing efforts the company has made to strengthen its internal controls. FirstEnergy officials have said the company is cooperating with investigations by the DOJ, SEC and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and that it has discussed a deferred prosecution agreement with DOJ attorneys.

The Legislature earlier this year repealed the $1 billion bailout in the wake of the scandal and the plants’ new owner, Energy Harbor, indicating it did not want the subsidy worth about $150 million a year. Energy Harbor took control of the plants and other assets of the FirstEnergy subsidiary in February 2020 as part of a deal struck in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Two sets of lawsuits seeking certification as class action complaints have been filed against FirstEnergy since July. Outside attorneys representing the company have said in recent motions to dismiss the lawsuits that FirstEnergy’s actions regarding its contributions to dark money groups controlled by former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder were legal.

Householder and four others were indicted on racketeering charges shortly after the DOJ unveiled criminal complaints against them in July. Householder has pleaded not guilty.

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