FBI Searching Columbus Home Of PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo
Updated: 3:18 p.m, Monday, Nov 16, 2020
The FBI raided the Columbus home of Public Utilities Commission Chairman Sam Randazzo Monday morning.
An FBI spokesman said the raid was related to a sealed federal search warrant; there were no arrests and none are expected. While it’s unclear why Randazzo’s home was searched, PUCO is currently auditing FirstEnergy, the electric utility thought to be at the center of a $61 million bribery scheme to pass a nuclear bailout law that federal prosecutors say involved former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glendale) and four others.
Federal prosecutors allege FirstEnergy funneled funds through dark money groups to Householder and others for the personal and political benefit in exchange for helping pass House Bill 6, the bailout law, and defend it from a civilian referendum. Householder is facing federal racketeering charges, along with four associates, two of whom pleaded guilty in October.
Before heading PUCO, Randazzo was a lobbyist for Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, representing large energy users such as Marathon Gas and McDonald’s franchises. But Randazzo said in recent testimony on a bailout repeal bill that he never did legal work or lobbied for a utility that's regulated by PUCO.
PUCO is currently reviewing the political expenditures of FirstEnergy and its subsidiaries. Instead of hiring an independent auditor, PUCO asked FirstEnergy itself to show utility ratepayers did not pay "directly or indirectly" for lobbying in favor of HB6 – a move the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel argues is too lenient.
Consumer watchdog group Citizens Utility Board of Ohio called for more transparency in PUCO’s ongoing investigation in light of the raid.
"PUCO's ability to thoroughly and effectively investigate FirstEnergy is severely compromised while its own chairman, Sam Randazzo, is under the spotlight after the FBI raided his home,” said Citizens Utility Board Executive Director Tom Bullock, who is also a Lakewood City Council member, in a Monday afternoon statement. “PUCO owes it to consumers to ensure transparency and impartiality in its decision-making. Many questions have been raised by today's FBI raid on Mr. Randazzo's home, and we need answers before PUCO makes any further decisions or rulings."
Citizens Utility Board filed a complaint with PUCO in October, calling on the regulatory group to create a legal mechanism to refund the new charges HB6 would add to customers’ bills if and when the bill is repealed. Without specific refund language, the Ohio Supreme Court has so far denied customer refunds of unlawful charges.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.