For its part in a really bizarre corruption case, FirstEnergy, a large Ohio-based utility corporation, has agreed to pay a $230 million fine.
Acting US Attorney Vipal Patel said on Thursday that the amount is the "largest criminal penalty ever collected, as far as anyone can remember, in the history of this office."
The Treasury will receive half of FirstEnergy's penalty, while the remaining $115 million will be used to finance a statewide program to help Ohio citizens pay their power bills.
"Largest Criminal Penalty Collected"
It comes after the utility reportedly paid $60 million to prominent Republican leaders, including then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder-whose seat the utility effectively secured-and his associates between 2017 and 2020.
In exchange for these large funds, the officials reportedly shepherded House Measure 6, a 2019 bill that featured a $1.3 billion ratepayer-funded bailout program for two of FirstEnergy's power facilities, through the legislative process. (Since then, the firm has changed its name to Energy Harbor.)
The bill also repealed the state's energy efficiency and renewable energy standards, costing every Ohio electricity user, including households, companies, and even industrial plants, an additional $170 million each year in surcharges. It's a strange narrative, and Leah Stokes, a political scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, chronicles much of it in her book.
Acknowledging Funneling Payments
FirstEnergy acknowledged funneling payments to dark money organizations, including $59 million to a nonprofit named Generation Now, in one of the craziest elements of the bribery plot.
Householders established the 501(c)(4) organization to accept millions of dollars in bribes. The householder allegedly stole $500,000 for his own use, according to the Justice Department.
For all of this, federal prosecutors accused FirstEnergy of conspiring to "defraud the public of its right to the honest services of a public official through bribery or kickbacks," as well as conspiring to "defraud the public of its right to the honest services of a public official through bribery or kickbacks."
After the Arrest
One year after the FBI arrested the householder and four others on racketeering charges, the massive punishment was levied. Two of the five political officials charged with corruption pled guilty in October 2020, while Generation Now pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering in February.
Other officials, notably the householder, who maintains that he did nothing wrong, are challenging the claims (which lol). Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine maintains he had nothing to do with any of this, despite reports that he solicited money from FirstEnergy for his gubernatorial campaigns.
The Ohio House, thankfully, ousted a householder from the state legislature last month. House Bill 6, which was enacted in July 2019 but contains measures that have not yet taken effect, is also being challenged by state politicians.
In the aftermath of the incident, DeWine stated that he favors repealing it as well. Ohio lawmakers officially repealed major sections of the package in March, including the $1.3 billion financial rescues of FirstEnergy's two power facilities.
Flawed Climate Policy
The state, on the other hand, isn't done with its horribly flawed climate policy. DeWine signed a bill permitting local governments to approve resolutions prohibiting big wind and solar initiatives or blocking renewable projects in specific areas of their counties on Thursday, the same day that FirstEnergy admitted its participation in the scandal.
Ohio also approved legislation preventing towns from blocking consumers from utilizing natural gas earlier this month, following in the footsteps of more than 15 other states that have done so. According to emails obtained via public documents requests by the Energy and Policy Institute, these pieces of legislation were crafted by the utility trade group Energy Solutions Center.
But, of course, the legislators who proposed and supported them haven't been too forthright about it. Unlike the massive FirstEnergy scam, which may all be legal, that doesn't make it any less murky or hazardous.
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