COLUMBUS, Ohio (WOIO) - Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit in Franklin County on Tuesday, accusing FirstEnergy, former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and several others of a “pattern of corrupt activity.”
“Ohio laws should not be built on the basis of fraud, deceit and intimidation,” Yost said. “Given the corruption surrounding House Bill 6, it is proper to block these ill-gotten gains from filling the coffers of those under criminal indictment.”
Householder and some of his associates were arrested in July on federal charges.
The ex-Speaker is accused of orchestrating a $61 million scheme to funnel donations into a slush fund that was used to help get candidates elected, most of whom later voted in favor of the controversial legislation that bailed out Ohio’s nuclear program.
While FirstEnergy was never named in the federal affidavit, it and its subsidiaries are widely believed to be the entity described as ‘Company A’ in court documents. That company allegedly provided the payments to a bogus nonprofit set up by Householder.
“Make no mistake about it, Larry Householder doesn’t get to do the things he did without the money that was provided for him,” Yost said in an afternoon news conference.
In response to an email inquiry from 19 News, a spokesperson for FirstEnergy wrote:
"While, as a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation, our CEO Chuck Jones said during a recent earnings call that he believes FirstEnergy acted properly in this matter and intends to ensure our Company and our role in supporting HB 6 is understood as accurately as possible.
"Ethical behavior and upholding the highest standards of conduct are foundational values for the entire FirstEnergy family. We strive to apply these standards in all business dealings, including our participation in the political process.
“It’s important to understand that both of the nuclear power plants in Ohio supported by HB 6 are owned and operated by Energy Harbor, a former subsidiary of FirstEnergy known at the time as FirstEnergy Solutions (FES.) FirstEnergy leadership has not had any decision-making power regarding the strategic direction of FES since November 2016, and FirstEnergy and Energy Harbor are now separate, unaffiliated companies. Additionally, FirstEnergy does not receive any revenues from the operation of these nuclear plants nor any of the nuclear funding provided through HB 6.”
The spokesperson later sent an additional response:
"Political contributions made by FirstEnergy are made in accordance with applicable laws, rules and regulations.
"The lawsuit unjustly targets the company for lawfully participating in the political process and advocating for policy that is consistent with our interests. Like most public companies, we support policy initiatives that matter to our customers, employees, communities and shareholders. The Attorney General’s complaint is without legal merit, and the company intends to vigorously defend itself.
“Ethical behavior and upholding the highest standards of conduct are foundational values for FirstEnergy. The company strives to apply these standards in all business dealings, including its participation in the political process.”
In his lawsuit, Yost is seeking to prevent Energy Harbor from receiving $1.3 billion in expected revenue from an energy bill rate hike set to begin in January as part of the bill’s passage.
Yost admitted he can’t do anything to prevent the hike, as it is written into state law.
Among other things, the lawsuit also seeks to freeze any of the defendants’ assets, as they relate to the alleged scheme and calls on a judge to restrict them from lobbying for or against any action on House Bill 6 and an eight-year ban on holding public office.
“We need to be able to count on our lawmaking process to not have this kind of of corruption,” said Yost.
On the same day Yost filed the lawsuit, Columbus-based nonprofit ProgressOhio called on Yost to step aside.
“This is too little, too late,” said the group’s Managing Director Michael McGovern. “Yost has already failed to investigate this scandal once. He is far too connected to the corrupt people and organizations involved to carry out this investigation. Yost isn’t independent, he’s compromised.”
Yost was asked about the group’s statements at the news conference.
“I’ve proven my independence over the last ten years in office. I call balls and strikes and hey, look, I sued these folks," Yost said, referring to the defendants he’s accused of being tied to.
Matt Borges, one of the men arrested for his alleged involvement in the scheme, was the campaign manager for Yost during his successful run for Ohio Auditor of State in 2010.
In a news release, ProgressOhio highlighted statistics from Ohio Secretary of State campaign finance filings, which include contributions from Borges, FirstEnergy and others in what they described as “dirty money.”
Borges is also the former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.