- An independent review committee of FirstEnergy's board of directors on Thursday evening announced the immediate termination of CEO Charles "Chuck" Jones and two other top executives overseeing marketing and external affairs for violating "certain FirstEnergy policies and its codes of conduct."
- The move followed the same-day guilty pleas of two of four lobbyists charged in July in a federal racketeering probe into the nearly $61 million campaign to fund the passage by Ohio lawmakers of a $1.5 billion public bailout of two northern Ohio nuclear power plants previously owned by FirstEnergy and two coal-fired plants on the Ohio River jointly owned by the state's utilities.
- Though not identified in the July indictment, FirstEnergy is believed to have been "Company A" in the investigation of how corporate "dark money" was used by former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder to fund the multi-year campaign for passage of the bailout legislation. Householder has pled not guilty to the charges and is awaiting trial.
Jones during the company's July earnings call said FirstEnergy contributed about a quarter of the $60 million campaign organized by Householder, but Jones stressed that he believed the corporation had acted ethically and within the law. Jones also confirmed that the company had received subpoenas in connection with the federal investigation.
Thursday's announcement by FirstEnergy's board of directors made it clear that the dismissals were in fact related to the company's involvement in the Householder scheme that led to the successful passage of the bailout legislation, House Bill 6.
"During the course of the Company's previously disclosed internal review related to the government investigations, the Independent Review Committee of the Board determined that these executives violated certain FirstEnergy policies and its code of conduct," the board's release noted.
FirstEnergy has not been charged in the Householder probe by the Justice Department. Nor has Energy Harbor, the newly organized company that emerged in February from the two-year bankruptcy case filed by former FirstEnergy subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions.
And despite a flurry of hearings to revoke HB 6 earlier in the fall, the Republican-controlled Ohio House and Senate have not moved repeal legislation out of committee.
Ohio Consumers' Counsel Bruce Weston, who has pushed for a full investigation of FirstEnergy's involvement in the Householder scheme, said the guilty pleas by two of the lobbyists involved and the dismissals by the company confirm his suspicions.
"For some time I've been saying that utilities with their corporate interest have undue influence to the detriment of the Ohio public interest. Today's announcements in the courtroom and the FirstEnergy boardroom are more confirmation of something rotten in our system that has to be purged, beginning with the repeal now of tainted House Bill 6 and continuing with other consumer protection reforms," Weston said.
Citizens Utility Board Executive Director Tom Bullock said the latest developments ought to motivate lawmakers to repeal HB 6.
"The HB 6 scandal has reached a grim milestone — the 'allegations' have now officially become crimes, and the victims are Ohio consumers who are on the hook for higher power bills because of a corrupt energy bailout. We urge Ohio leaders to stand up for consumers and repeal HB 6," Bullock said in a statement Friday morning.
FirstEnergy's board named Steven Strah, who has served as president of FirstEnergy since May, as acting chief executive. Strah began his career with the company in 1984.
The board also named one of its own directors, Christopher Pappas, as executive director. Pappas, who will report directly to the non-executive chairman of the board, Donald Misheff, will "oversee the management team's execution of FirstEnergy's strategic initiatives, engage with the company's external stakeholders, and support the development of enhanced controls and governance policies and procedures."