- A Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC) audit released earlier this year revealed that FirstEnergy charged Pennsylvania customers for $2.4 million in “inappropriate costs” related to an ongoing federal criminal investigation in Ohio, but the audit did not identify what FirstEnergy used the money for.
- The Energy and Policy Institute obtained records, made public here for the first time, via a Right-To-Know request that show FirstEnergy used the money for payments to firms associated with two individuals involved in the utility company’s corruption scandal in Ohio, Samuel Randazzo and Tony George.
FirstEnergy charged customers in Pennsylvania at least $2.4 million for payments to firms associated with Samuel Randazzo and Tony George, two individuals described in the deferred federal criminal case brought against the utility company in Ohio.
A Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC) audit report made public in June of this year revealed that in March of 2021, FirstEnergy quietly proposed to refund “approximately $2.4 million in inappropriate costs” paid by its Pennsylvania customers. FirstEnergy uncovered the charges during an internal investigation launched in 2020, after the company was subpoenaed in a federal criminal investigation in Ohio involving tens of millions of dollars in bribe payments.
“The support for the proposed refunds was not audited during our review, and as such, the accuracy of these refunds was not substantiated,” the Pennsylvania PUC acknowledged in the audit report, which did not identify how FirstEnergy spent the money that it collected from customers of its Pennsylvania utilities: Met-Ed, Penelec, Penn Power and West Penn Power.
“FirstEnergy’s internal investigations uncovered incidental findings prompting the company to prepare refund proposals for the utility regulatory bodies in each state it serves,” the audit report also said.
In response to a Right-to-Know request from the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI), the PUC produced copies of a presentation titled “Overview of Payments and Refunds” that FirstEnergy delivered to the PUC last year, as well as related internal commission emails and spreadsheets. EPI is making those records public here for the first time.
FirstEnergy’s March 2021 presentation to the PUC revealed that its utilities charged Pennsylvania customers for years of FirstEnergy payments to five outside firms. One of the firms, the Sustainability Funding Alliance, is owned by Samuel Randazzo, who as the former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio was once the Buckeye State’s top regulator of FirstEnergy and other utility companies.
Randazzo resigned in 2020, after the FBI raided his home and FirstEnergy first disclosed a secret $4.3 million payment that the company admitted influenced Randazzo’s official actions as chairman.
In August of 2021, while the Pennsylvania PUC’s audit was still underway, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) released a related audit of FirstEnergy’s Ohio utilities. The PUCO audit identified the rest of the firms named in FirstEnergy’s earlier presentation to the Pennsylvania PUC as being owned by Tony George. George is described as “Individual B” in court filings by prosecutors in FirstEnergy’s criminal case in Ohio; he served as an intermediary between FirstEnergy and indicted former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder.
Randazzo and George have not been charged with a crime in the ongoing federal investigation in Ohio.
More than eleven months after the PUCO’s audit became public, the Pennsylvania PUC’s own audit vaguely described the $2.4 million in charges and proposed refunds to Pennsylvania customers as “inappropriate costs” identified by FirstEnergy’s internal investigation.
David Hixson and Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, spokespeople for the Pennsylvania PUC, declined to comment further in response to questions from EPI about the charges and the Pennsylvania PUC’s limited response to FirstEnergy’s disclosures.
When EPI asked if Pennsylvania customers were still being charged for the Randazzo and George payments in 2022, Hagen-Frederiksen said that “The RTK [Right to Know] response speaks for itself.”
FirstEnergy’s March 2021 presentation to the Pennsylvania PUC said “ongoing annual amounts of approximately $200K (in aggregate) are recovered from customers through base rates in Pennsylvania.”
FirstEnergy did not respond to the same question from EPI.
Earlier research and analysis by EPI found Pennsylvania customers may be on the hook for “external affairs” spending by FirstEnergy that exceeds the $2.4 million in refunds proposed by the company.
Another audit released earlier this year by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission indicates that all FirstEnergy utilities, across multiple states, charged customers for payments to other organizations involved in the federal racketeering case against ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Housholder. FirstEnergy did not address those payments in its presentation last year to the Pennsylvania PUC.
FirstEnergy charged Pennsylvania customers for thousands of dollars in payments to an Ohio-based consulting firm owned by Samuel Randazzo
In July of 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with FirstEnergy, in which the company agreed to pay a $230 million penalty to avoid prosecution on a federal criminal charge. FirstEnergy was charged with honest wire service fraud involving bribery, concealment of material information, and defrauding the public of the honest services of two unnamed Ohio government officials described as “Public Official A” and “Public Official B” in federal court filings. Public Official A was Householder; Public Official B was Randazzo.
In a statement of facts filed by prosecutors in the case, FirstEnergy admitted that it secretly paid more than $22 million to the Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio and IEU-Ohio Administration Company, a second consulting firm owned by Randazzo, between 2010 and early 2019.
FirstEnergy’s presentation to the Pennsylvania PUC last year identified $76,000 paid to the Sustainability Funding Alliance that the company’s Pennsylvania utilities included in “Base Rates – Capital.” FirstEnergy’s Pennsylvania utilities had already charged customers $31,000 for payments to the Sustainability Funding Alliance, and FirstEnergy’s presentation described additional “ongoing” customer charges of $7,600 per year.
The Pennsylvania PUC’s audit found it “unlikely” that FirstEnergy’s Pennsylvania customers were not charged for at least a portion of FirstEnergy’s $4.3 million payment to Randazzo, but said the commission faced barriers to discovering the full impact of FirstEnergy’s scheme in Ohio on Pennsylvanians.
“Because the Pennsylvania Commission’s jurisdiction only covers the Pennsylvania subsidiaries and because the potential crimes occurred at the holding company level which are subject to current litigation/prosecution, we were unable to access the documentation necessary to validate the exact effect on Pennsylvania ratepayers,” the Pennsylvania audit report said.
The Energy and Policy Institute reviewed a redacted transcript from the deposition of FirstEnergy’s assistant controller Tracy Ashton earlier this year in a lawsuit filed by company shareholders in response to the federal criminal investigation. During the deposition, which was made public by the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, Ashton confirmed Randazzo is “Public Official B” described in the statement of facts in FirstEnergy’s deferred criminal case. Ashton also said Randazzo conspired with FirstEnergy to commit a federal crime.
Ashton also identified George as “Individual B” described in the statement of facts in FirstEnergy’s deferred criminal case.
FirstEnergy charged Pennsylvania customers for $2.3 million in payments to Tony George firms and a nonprofit connected to George
FirstEnergy’s March 2021 presentation to the Pennsylvania PUC revealed that it charged Pennsylvania customers a total of $2.3 million for payments to #1 Media, EcoEarth Energy LLC, Josie G. Inc. and Ohio Outdoor Advertising, as well as a nonprofit called Awakening Angels.
PUCO’s audit of FirstEnergy’s Ohio utilities identified all four firms and the nonprofit as entities associated with George, who like Randazzo was not mentioned by name in FirstEnergy’s earlier presentation to the Pennsylvania PUC.
George did not respond to an email from the Energy and Policy Institute seeking comment on FirstEnergy identifying him as “Individual B” and asking if his businesses had provided services or products to FirstEnergy’s utilities outside of Ohio, including in Pennsylvania. George previously told Cleveland.com that “anything we billed FirstEnergy for was proper.”
“He facilitated a meeting with Larry Householder and texted with Chuck Jones about Householder,” Ashton said of George during her deposition.
Charles “Chuck” Jones is FirstEnergy’s former CEO, who was terminated in October of 2020 in connection with the company’s internal investigation into the Ohio scheme.
Several days before the November elections in 2016, Jones texted the following message to George, according to the statement of facts from FirstEnergy’s deferred criminal case:
Pass on to [Public Official A]. When we were talking on Weds I told him there was gonna be a sense of urgency but couldn’t tell him all the details. If we don’t move on some type of support in first half of 2017 it will be too late. These plants will be shut, sold, or bankrupt. I don’t have any contact info for him.
Ashton identified “Public Official A” as former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, who has been charged with racketeering and awaits trial next year. FirstEnergy has admitted that it secretly paid about $60 million to influence Householder. The company routed the money through a network of dark-money organizations that included Generation Now, aligned with Householder, and Partners for Progress, a group controlled by FirstEnergy.
Ashton said Householder, Randazzo, Jones and a former FirstEnergy lobbyist named Michael Dowling, all conspired with FirstEnergy to commit honest services fraud. George was not named by Ashton as part of that criminal conspiracy.
At the time of Jones’ 2016 text message to George, Householder was just days away from being elected to the Ohio House. In 2017, Householder began a multi-year campaign to become speaker, a campaign that FirstEnergy secretly funded via the dark-money organizations.
Ashton said that George “traveled with Dowling and Householder to Trump’s inauguration and was met there by Jones.”
Prosecutors mentioned Householder’s 2017 flight to D.C. for Donald Trump’s inauguration aboard one of FirstEnergy’s corporate planes when they charged FirstEnergy last year. Householder, George, Jones and Dowling were all listed in documents obtained by Documented, a corporate watchdog group, as “attendees” of a 2017 inaugural parade watch party hosted by the Republican Governors Association at the headquarters of the Edison Electric Institute.
FirstEnergy lobbied in Ohio for the passage of multiple bills, including one co-sponsored by Householder, in 2017 and 2018 that aimed to force Ohio ratepayers to bail out the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions (FES), but the bills failed to gain traction.
FirstEnergy’s secret contributions to Generation Now helped to elect Householder-backed candidates to the Ohio House during the 2018 elections. Householder was then selected as the new Ohio House speaker in 2019. FirstEnergy quietly funneled more money into Generation Now, and Householder used it to secure a $1 billion bailout for FES’s nuclear plants through Ohio’s House Bill 6.
George, along with his spouse and two sons, contributed nearly $120,000 to support Householder’s campaign between 2016 and November of 2019, Cleveland.com reported last year.
The statement of facts from FirstEnergy’s deferred criminal case also included another text message exchange between Jones (Executive 1) and George (Individual B):
A few days later, the FirstEnergy-controlled Partners for Progress wired $2 million to Generation Now to support Householder’s long-term plan to remain speaker through a ballot initiative that would weaken Ohio’s term limits. Householder was arrested later that year, and the ballot initiative never materialized.
Status of the refunds owed by FirstEnergy to Pennsylvania customers
FirstEnergy’s presentation to the Pennsylvania PUC included a multi-part refund plan.
FirstEnergy proposed to “refund” a portion of the money through an adjustment to an Energy Efficiency and Conservation (EEC) Rider. Pennsylvania customers had been previously charged for that portion of the inappropriate payments through that rider.
Emails with FirstEnergy and related spreadsheets provided by the Pennsylvania PUC in response to EPI’s Right-to-Know request indicate this initial “refund” covered $1 million associated with a January 2020 invoice from George’s EcoEarth Energy that was included in the EEC Rider.
The EcoEarth Energy invoice billed FirstEnergy for “Various, Billboards, Bulletins, Posters, and Digitals on rotation” for the FirstEnergy four Pennsylvania utilities between February and December of 2020.
EcoEarth Energy has no public website and little information about the company can be found online. Articles of Incorporation filed in Ohio included the name Thomas T. George, which is Tony George’s legal name.
In its response to EPI’s Right-to-Know request, the Pennsylvania PUC pointed to publicly available filings by Med Ed, Penelec, Penn Power and West Penn Power from last year that show adjustments to “reverse” a January invoice through the EEC ride were proposed by the FirstEnergy utilities and approved by the PUC. The public filings do not mention George or EcoEarth Energy, and included no information clearly connecting the adjustments to the Ohio investigation.
“Reversal of a January 2020 invoice associated with the Company’s internal review of EEC charges,” was how the FirstEnergy utilities described the adjustments in their public filings.
The remainder of the refunds may not be paid until future rate cases for FirstEnergy’s Pennsylvania utilities, and the timing of those rate cases remains uncertain
“Create regulatory liabilities for costs collected in base rates to refund in future base rate cases,” the second part of FirstEnergy’s refund plan for Pennsylvania began. “Ongoing revenue requirements would continue to accrue until effective dates of new rates. Capital will be reversed to ensure they are not included in future rate case proceedings.”
In recently published investor materials, FirstEnergy identified 2024 as a “potential” year when the company’s Pennsylvania utilities will file new rate cases.
The Pennsylvania PUC’s audit report called on FirstEnergy to maintain “transparent records of the additional costs incurred as a result of the investigations and fallout related to bribery charges in Ohio to demonstrate prudent and reasonable operating costs in any future rate case proceeding.”
FirstEnergy agreed to that recommendation in an implementation plan it filed with the commission in response to the audit.
Invoices and financial agreements made public in Ohio provide more details about the “inappropriate costs” FirstEnergy customers in Pennsylvania paid for
One month before FirstEnergy initially revealed the $2.4 million in charges to the Pennsylvania PUC, FirstEnergy’s executive director Christopher Pappas disclosed information on the topic to investors on a February 18, 2021 earnings call:
In the course of the internal investigation, we did identify certain transactions, which, in some instances, extended back 10 years or more, including vendor services that were either improperly classified, misallocated to certain utility or transmission companies or lacked proper supporting documentation. These transactions result in amounts collected from customers that were immaterial to FirstEnergy, and our utility and transmission companies will be working with the appropriate regulatory agencies to address these amounts.
FirstEnergy did not, however, disclose exactly how much money it owed to customers across the multi-state service territory served by the company’s utilities, which includes Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The company provided few concrete details about what it used the money to pay for.
Pappas did say the improper transactions identified by FirstEnergy’s internal investigation “could” include political and lobbying expenditures.
“The $4 million was part of the analysis that Chris [Pappas] spoke of earlier,” chief financial officer Jon Taylor said on the same earnings call, in a reference to FirstEnergy’s $4.3 million payment to Randazzo’s Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio.
In response to the disclosures, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio expanded an already ongoing audit of the Distribution Capitalization Rider (DCR) paid by FirstEnergy customers in Ohio to include the improper payments. The audit was completed in August of 2021.
“The audit examined payments to 17 vendors over a 10-year period, totaling $24.5 million,” PUCO said in a press release that summarized the DCR audit’s findings. “The audit report identifies $6.6 million of the $24.5 million total that were included in customer bills and should be refunded.”
The “vendors” included twelve associated with George, Randazzo’s two personal consulting firms, and Generation Now and Hardworking Ohioans, both associated with Householder.
PUCO’s audit also identified “$7.4 million in expenses that were recorded as capital and should be excluded from future ratemaking during the companies’ next distribution rate case.”
The PUCO made public copies of invoices and financial agreements associated with the flagged payments (link downloads zip file from PUCO’s website) to the “vendors” associated with Randazzo and George that it obtained from FirstEnergy during the audit.
PUCO’s audit was limited to Ohio, but FirstEnergy also charged Pennsylvania customers for payments connected to some of those same invoices and financial agreements.
Both the PUCO audit and FirstEnergy’s refunds proposal in Pennsylvania described money paid to Randazzo’s Sustainability Funding Alliance for “energy efficiency funding (2010-2016 annual payments of $1 million each) and “payments pursuant to consulting agreements and amendments (2013-2018).”
A confidential invoice from January 18, 2010 shows FirstEnergy Corp. agreed to make six annual payments of $1 million to the Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio and $500,000 to the IEU-Ohio Administration Company. The proceeds were to be used “to the extent possible” to create and obtain “mercantile capabilities that are eligible for inclusion in the portfolio compliance plans of FirstEnergy’s Ohio electric utilities.”
A copy of a confidential 2013 consulting services agreement shows FirstEnergy agreed to pay hundreds of thousands per year to the Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio over a five-year period, starting at $300,000 in 2013 and increasing to $500,000 in 2015. Randazzo’s firm was to be paid for part-time “work” and was to be defined “from time to time by the President and/or the VP, Sales and Marketing of FirstEnergy Solutions Corp.”
Randazzo sided with FirstEnergy against Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards for electric utilities and opposed a major solar project in Ohio during the time period covered by his consulting agreements with FirstEnergy. He was also a chief opponent of wind power projects in Ohio during that time.
The statement of facts from FirstEnergy’s deferred criminal case described how the company’s 2013 consulting agreement with Randazzo was amended in 2015 in exchange for Randazzo’s “industrial group withdrawing its opposition to a 2014 PUCO Electric Security Plan settlement package involving FirstEnergy Corp’s Ohio electric distribution subsidiaries.”
PUCO responded to this revelation by ordering an investigation into the previously undisclosed 2015 side deal between FirstEnergy and Randazzo as a possible violation of Ohio law.
FirstEnergy wrongly charged customers in Pennsylvania and Ohio for payments the company made to Tony George firms to sponsor fireworks in Cleveland
George’s #1 Media and Josie G. Inc. were paid by FirstEnergy for “purchase of billboards; event sponsorships,” according to PUCO’s audit and FirstEnergy’s Pennsylvania presentation.
#1 Media is a “fictitious name” registered for use by Josie G. Inc. with the state of Ohio. PUCO’s audit described #1 Media as a division of Josie G.
FirstEnergy charged Met Ed and Penelec for payments to #1 Media between May 2005 and June 2012. The customer impacts of those charges, which remained in rates through 2015, totaled approximately $370,000.
PUCO’s audit found that FirstEnergy included over $200,000 paid to #1 Media in the base rates paid by FirstEnergy’s Ohio customers in 2007 and 2008.
The supporting documents made public by PUCO with its DCR audit did not include any records documenting FirstEnergy payments to #1 Media or Josie G. from before 2015.
The Ohio Consumers Counsel obtained copies of #1 Media invoices that show FirstEnergy and Ohio subsidiary Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (CEI) paid to sponsor July 4 fireworks at Cleveland’s annual Waterfront Festival in 2008, 2015, 2016, and 2019. The cost of the “title sponsorship” increased from $203,000 in 2008 to $325,000 in 2019.
Kathi Kowalski, a reporter for the Energy News Network, obtained copies of those invoices through a public records request filed with the Ohio Consumers Counsel, and shared copies with the Energy and Policy Institute.
FirstEnergy’s four Pennsylvania utilities were charged for payments to Josie G. Inc. between 2015 and 2020, which resulted in nearly $425,000 in customer impacts. In addition, FirstEnergy disclosed ongoing impacts to Pennsylvania customers of over $100,000 connected to the Josie G. charges.
PUCO’s audit found FirstEnergy’s Ohio utilities included over $55,000 in payments to Josie G. as capital in their Delivery Capitalization Riders, and over $1.2 million in pole attachment rates charged to internet providers for pole access.
George’s name and signature appeared on a “confidential” November 1, 2017 event sponsorship agreement between the FirstEnergy Service Company and #1 Media that was made public by PUCO. The agreement described #1 Media as a Division of Josie G. Inc.
#1 Media had the “first right to name the title sponsor” under a “separate agreement” with the Downtown Cleveland Alliance and City of Cleveland, according to the agreement.
Under the terms of the agreement, #1 Media would name FirstEnergy as the title sponsor for the Cleveland 4th of July Waterfront Festival Weekend, “a weekend fireworks and entertainment program to celebrate the 4th of July in Cleveland for the years 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023.”
In exchange, FirstEnergy would pay #1 Media $325,000 per year, or a total of approximately $1.6 million over the five-year period. The agreement noted the title sponsorship “has significant advertising and good will value to First Energy [sic].”
“Institutional and promotional advertising does not provide a direct primary benefit to customers, and the costs of such advertising should not be recovered in rates,” a PUCO attorney examiner wrote in a 2021 order to further expand the DCR audit to in response to public concerns that FirstEnergy may have charged ratepayers in Ohio to pay for naming rights at the Cleveland Browns’ football stadium.
Tony George was a political ally for FirstEnergy as the company sought to roll back Ohio’s clean energy standards and secure ratepayer bailouts for its nuclear and coal-fired power plants in Ohio
PUCO’s DCR audit and FirstEnergy’s 2021 presentation to the Pennsylvania PUC said FirstEnergy paid George’s EcoEarth Energy for “energy efficiency general awareness marketing campaigns” and “payments pursuant to alternative energy consulting invoices.”
The name Dennis Chack appeared on some of FirstEnergy’s invoices from EcoEarth Energy from 2016 and 2018 that the PUCO made public. Chack was later the third executive terminated by FirstEnergy alongside Jones and Dowling in October 2020 amidst the early fallout from the federal HB 6 investigation.
Years earlier, George had publicly supported SB 58, a 2013 bill to “reform” Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards that FirstEnergy and Randazzo also backed. The George Group appeared on a list of SB 58 supporters which was circulated by the bill’s sponsor Bill Seitz, an Ohio state legislator and ally of FirstEnergy.
PUCO’s audit flagged FirstEnergy payments to a number of George entities that were not mentioned in FirstEnergy’s 2021 presentation to the Pennsylvania PUC, including the George Group and Superior Holding LLC.
FirstEnergy records made public by PUCO show the George Group and Superior Holding benefited from economic development grants connected to FirstEnergy’s “ESP” or Electric Security Plan in Ohio in 2016 and 2019.
George testified in support of the Electric Security Plan proposed by FirstEnergy’s Ohio utilities at a 2015 public hearing held by PUCO. During his testimony, George voiced support for the coal-fired and nuclear power plants the ESP proposed to bail out, at the expense of FirstEnergy’s Ohio ratepayers.
“Make no mistake, FirstEnergy’s W.H. Sammis and David-Besse Plants are not dirty, old power plants,” George said, according to a hearing transcript. “They are state-of-the-art facilities, and much like – – much like a valued older home, received upgrades over the years.”
The ESP and HB 6 were later described as part of a “Team Effort” to save the coal-fired W.H. Sammis power plant and Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants from closure in a presentation that FirstEnergy lobbyist Joel Bailey and consultant Ken Holland’s delivered to a 2019 Edison Electric Institute training for utility industry lobbyists. Bailey was among a slew of lobbyists terminated by FirstEnergy after the federal HB 6 investigation became public.
Little room for doubt that Pennsylvania customers were also charged for a portion of FirstEnergy’s dark money payments to influence former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder
FirstEnergy’s March 2021 presentation to the Pennsylvania PUC came after the company publicly revealed in an annual report that it had received a letter from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Division of Investigations. The letter directed the company to preserve records related to its lobbying on HB 6.
FERC had previously initiated an audit of FirstEnergy in February of 2019, about two months before HB 6 was first introduced in Ohio. FERC released its audit report on FirstEnergy in February of this year, about four months before the Pennsylvania PUC made public its own audit of FirstEnergy’s Pennsylvania utilities.
FERC’s audit flagged a total of $133 million of FirstEnergy’s spending on internal lobbying costs and outside payments to entities associated with Householder, Randazzo, and a third unnamed individual connected to the Ohio investigations.
FirstEnergy wrongly charged customers of its regulated utilities and transmission companies for at least a portion of the money, according to the FERC audit.
FERC’s audit found that FirstEnergy charged the customers of all ten of its franchised public utilities, including those in Pennsylvania, for at least $1.5 million of the money paid to Generation Now and Hardworking Ohioans, a murky for-profit entity also involved in the Householder scandal in Ohio.
The FERC audit also said that FirstEnergy was “investigating payments totaling approximately $28.8 million made between 2003 and 2020 to sixteen entities associated with one individual.”
FirstEnergy would not comment on whether that individual was Tony George, when asked via email by EPI.
“We are unable to comment beyond the information that has already been provided in our public filings,” said spokesperson Jennifer Young.
Exactly how much money FirstEnergy will have to refund to customers as a result of the FERC audit remains to be determined, pending further review of the company’s lobbying and political spending that FirstEnergy agreed to as part of its response to the audit.
FERC still has to approve and make public a refund report by FirstEnergy, and FERC has yet to conclude its related HB 6 investigation.
Top photo is a screenshot from a video of Samuel Randazzo speaking at a 2018 meeting in Ohio organized by the Seneca Anti-Wind Union