The Ohio Nuclear Bribery Plot Widens

Davis-Besse Nuclear Plant. Photo: NRC.

It was called “likely the largest bribery money-laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio.” And the shoes are still dropping. Or should that be ankle monitors? Because these latter belong to the three latest criminals indicted for their roles in a scheme that saw FirstEnergy hand over $61 million in bribes to Ohio politicians and their co-conspirators to secure favorable legislation.

That bill, known as HB6, guaranteed a $1.3 billion bailout to FirstEnergy in order to keep open its two failing Ohio nuclear power plants, Davis-Besse and Perry, as well as struggling coal plants. The nuclear portion of the bill has since been rescinded, but Ohio consumers are still paying to prop up two aging coal plants, to the tune of half a million dollars a day, amounting to an extra $1.50 a month on every ratepayer’s electric bill.

The $61 million bribery plot was the mastermind of then speaker of the Ohio House, Larry Householder, who is now a household name in Ohio for all the wrong reasons. He was sentenced last June to 20 years in prison for his part in the conspiracy. GOP Chairman Matt Borges, was also found guilty of racketeering conspiracy and sentenced to five years in federal prison. Both men say they will appeal.

Dave Yost, Ohio Attorney General and a Republican, indicted Randazzo, Jones and Dowling in abstentia. The three were arraigned the next day. (Photo: Official photo of Dave Yost.)

Householder may have been the instigator, but in those earlier trials, FirstEnergy was described as a company that went “looking for someone to bribe them”. They found willing accomplices among politicians but also in the person of then Ohio Public Utilities Commission chairman, Samuel Randazzo.

So on February 12, yet more indictments were handed down, this time to Randazzo and the two FirstEnergy executives who corrupted him — former CEO Charles Jones, and former senior vice president of external affairs, Michael Dowling.

Their list of crimes, including a collective 27 felonies, was announced at a press conference by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. But although the presence of their company had been requested, the accused were not there.

With more than a hint of resignation in his voice, Yost said at the press conference that “the counsel representing these men assured us that they would turn themselves in this morning at eight thirty AM at the Summit County jail. They did not fulfill that promise and I suppose I am unsurprised that they would not keep this promise either.”

However, Jones, Dowling and Randazzo evidently decided it would not be such a good idea to go on the lam and all three did did appear the next day, rather sour-faced and slightly sinister-looking, to face arraignment in a courtroom scene that could have been cast in Hollywood (although perhaps with more flashy A-list attorneys). All three, of course, pled not guilty.

Perhaps in light of their Monday morning no-show, the court did not lift the pre-arraignment bonds of $100,000 each, nor the order for Dowling and Randazzo to continue wearing GPS ankle monitors — Jones can carry his due to medical reasons. Randazzo was restricted to movement within three counties while Dowling was forbidden from leaving the state. Jones was viewed as the greatest flight risk and was forbidden, for now, from returning to his Florida home — lest he flee to, of all places, Cuba!

Householder, somewhat of a gangster lookalike himself, was described during his earlier trial as “the quintessential mob boss, directing the criminal enterprise from the shadows and using his casket carriers to execute the scheme.”

Larry Householder “stuck to his guns.” He also took the money. The only thing he blew up was his career. He was sentenced last year to 20 years in federal prison.

The mainstream national press has scarcely reported any of this. Maybe they view it as a local story. But this kind of nuclear corruption has also occurred in South Carolina and Illinois, culminating in multiple indictments and prison sentences. It’s possible we could yet see something similar go down in Georgia as electricity rates there soar to pay for the two late-arriving and over-budget Vogtle reactors, the second of which just started fissioning earlier this month.

Why does the nuclear industry find itself mired in these kinds of criminal conspiracies? Because it has no chance of standing on its own financial feet. Meanwhile, cheaper, faster, more job-friendly renewable energy industry options are leaving nuclear power behind in a cloud of radioactive dust.

This economic collapse has, in turn, put pressure on politicians to make things right for their corporate nuclear friends, something Senator Joe Manchin and others are currently working hard to do on Capitol Hill.

So there may yet be more shoes (and ankle monitors) to drop and it’s going to be very interesting to see who’s wearing them.

This article originally appeared on Beyond Nuclear International.

 

Linda Pentz Gunter is the editor and curator of BeyondNuclearInternational.org and the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear.