Ex-utility regulator, charged in FirstEnergy scheme, dies by suicide

Published 3:25 pm Thursday, April 11, 2024

COLUMBUS (AP) — A former top utility regulator awaiting trial on charges he took millions in bribes in conjunction with the largest corruption scandal in Ohio’s history died by suicide on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Franklin County Coroner’s Office said.

Sam Randazzo, 74, the one-time chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted of the dozens of criminal charges he faced in simultaneous federal and state investigations. He had pleaded not guilty to all of them, most notably the allegation that he accepted a $4.3 million bribe from Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. in exchange for regulatory favors.

A spokesperson for the county coroner’s office said Randazzo was found unresponsive at a building he owned in Columbus at just before noon.

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The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Ohio Attorney General’s Office and office of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who initially appointed Randazzo to the PUCO, all declined immediate comment.

FirstEnergy has admitted to using dark money groups to fund a $60 million bribery plot that allowed former Republican Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder to win the speakership, elect his allies and pass and defend a $1 billion nuclear bailout bill, known as House Bill 6, for two of its affiliated nuclear plants.

A jury convicted Householder and lobbyist Matt Borges last year on federal racketeering charges for their roles in the scheme. Householder was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Borges to five. Both have appealed.

Randazzo resigned his regulatory post in November 2020 after FBI agents searched his Columbus townhome and FirstEnergy revealed in security filings what it said were bribery payments of $4.3 million for his future help at the commission a month before DeWine nominated him as Ohio’s top utility regulator.

He is the second person that was accused as part of the sweeping investigation to take his own life. Long-time Statehouse lobbyist Neil Clark, one of the five people initially arrested in the probe in July 2020, died by suicide in March 2021 after pleading not guilty. The remaining two men, Juan Cespedes and Jeffrey Longstreth, pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the government in the ongoing inquiry.