Dark money group admits racketeering in Ohio bribery case
By JULIE CARR SMYTH and MARK GILLISPIEFebruary 19, 2021
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A political dark money group that authorities say was used as part of a $60 million bribery scheme to pass nuclear bailout legislation in Ohio pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering charge on Friday.
Generation Now Inc. also agreed in federal court in Cincinnati to forfeit $1.5 million from two bank accounts.
Jeffrey Longstreth, a co-defendant in the case who previously pleaded guilty to racketeering for his involvement in the scheme, represented Generation Now during Friday’s hearing.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Black delayed a pre-sentence investigation and sentencing until after cases for all of the defendants are resolved.
Federal investigators say former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, Longstreth and three others used the nonprofit Generation Now as a conduit for $60 million secretly provided by Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. The money was allegedly used to secure Householder’s power, elect allied lawmakers and gain legislative approval for $1 billion bailout of two nuclear power plants operated by a FirstEnergy subsidiary.
The five men were indicted in July on racketeering charges. Householder has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial. He was stripped of his leadership post but remains a state representative, rankling elected officials from his heavily Republican district who have pushed for his removal.
Also Friday, the vacancy created when a former regulator touched by the scandal resigned inched closer to being filled.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Nominating Council sent the names of four new finalists for the vacancy created by then-PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo’s resignation in November to Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.
— Jenifer French, an attorney who lost a reelection bid for Franklin County Common Pleas Court in November
— Virginia King, an assistant general counsel at Findlay-based Marathon Petroleum Corp. focused on the company’s sustainability efforts
— Daniel Shields, who spent 30 years at the PUCO, including as federal energy advocate, and the past seven years at the Office of Consumer’s Counsel
— Melissa Shilling, a 17-year member of the state’s Environmental Review Appeals Commission
In a rare move, DeWine rejected the first list he was sent on Jan. 27, telling the panel in a letter that, while the candidates were all “appropriate,” he preferred “to consider additional capable candidates” before making his decision. The move drew swift criticism from consumer advocates, who viewed at least one of the candidates as highly qualified.
The second list of semifinalists contained no duplicate names from the first list DeWine rejected.
Randazzo has not been charged in the bribery investigation. His resignation came days after his Columbus townhome was searched by the FBI and FirstEnergy revealed that former executives had paid $4 million to the firm of an Ohio official meeting Randazzo’s description to terminate a purported consulting contract. The payment was made just before DeWine appointed Randazzo as PUCO chair.
Gillispie reported from Cleveland.