AKRON, Ohio (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday ordered attorneys for investors in utility giant FirstEnergy Corp. to reveal who from the company paid bribes in an alleged $60 million scheme to win a legislative bailout for two Ohio nuclear plants.
U.S District Court Judge John Adams told the lawyers he wanted the names by noon on Wednesday, saying “the public has a right to know how it is that the political process was so easily corrupted.”
The order stems from a proposed settlement of lawsuits filed by shareholders on behalf of FirstEnergy against board members and top executives in the wake of allegations that the company paid out bribes to win the $1 billion bailout for the nuclear plants operated at the time by a wholly-owned FirstEnergy subsidiary.
Adams ended a hearing earlier this month when FirstEnergy’s lead attorney refused to say who at the company was responsible for paying the bribes — he would only say it was a senior executive and that he could not disclose the name while the settlement was pending.
The attorney representing the investors involved with the settlement said last week that publicly disclosing the names could be harmful to FirstEnergy and its related criminal and civil cases. The attorney said they would be willing to provide the information as long as it wasn’t released publicly.
The proposed settlement of a number of lawsuits calls for FirstEnergy’s insurer to pay the company $180 million less attorney fees on behalf of board members and company executives. Other provisions include an agreement that six longtime board members not stand for reelection at FirstEnergy’s next shareholder meeting.
Adams has said he wants to know why the settlement was reached without depositions from current and former FirstEnergy officials and why no effort had been made to force former company executives to return millions in compensation.
None of the company’s executives have been charged in the investigation, but FirstEnergy in July said it would pay a $230 million criminal penalty as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, four associates and a dark money group were indicted in July 2020 on federal racketeering conspiracy charges for their roles in the bribery scandal. Federal authorities say the $60 million from FirstEnergy was used to get Householder supporters elected to help him win passage of the bailout legislation and to prevent bailout opponents from placing a referendum on the Ohio ballot.
Householder has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial early next year.