CINCINNATI – A federal grand jury has charged the former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) with crimes related to bribery and embezzlement.
Samuel Randazzo, 74, of Columbus, self-surrendered at U.S. District Court in Cincinnati this morning. Randazzo is charged in an 11-count indictment that was returned on Nov. 29 and he will be scheduled for an initial appearance later today.
“Public officials – whether elected or appointed – are tasked with upholding the highest level of integrity in their duties and responsibilities. Such service to the public must be selfless, not selfish,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker. “Through the indictment unsealed today, we seek to hold Randazzo accountable for his alleged illegal activities."
"Today's indictment outlines an alleged scheme in which a public regulatory official ignored the Ohio consumers he was responsible for protecting, instead taking a bribe from an energy company seeking favors," stated FBI Cincinnati Special Agent in Charge J. William Rivers. “The FBI will remain vigilant in investigating allegations of corruption at all levels of government and hold those who violate the law accountable for their actions.”
Randazzo faces one count of conspiring to commit travel act bribery and honest services wire fraud, two counts of travel act bribery, two counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of wire fraud and five counts of making illegal monetary transactions.
Randazzo was the PUCO chairman from April 2019 until November 2020, when he resigned. According to the indictment, Randazzo allegedly received more than $4.3 million from an energy company and its affiliates to provide favorable official actions for the company through PUCO proceedings.
For example, it is alleged that in November 2019, Randazzo included language in a PUCO Opinion and Order that would address an issue for the energy company that was slated to happen in 2024. “Stock is gonna get hit with Ohio 2024. Need Sam to get rid of the ‘Ohio 2024 hole,’” an energy executive text message read. Another executive messaged, in part: “I spoke with Sam today. Told me 2024 issue will be handled next Thursday.” The next Thursday, the PUCO decision included language alleviating the 2024 issue.
A March 2020 text message from an executive mentions that Randazzo “will get it done for us but cannot just jettison all process.” The message references specific official actions before continuing: “…a lot of talk going on in the halls of PUCO about does he work there or for us? He’ll move it as fast as he can.”
It is alleged that Randazzo received the bribe money from the energy company through his consulting business, Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio, Inc. (SFA), which was registered in Ohio in March 2010. SFA filings name Randazzo as the president and sole representative of the business and lists Randazzo’s home address as the business address.
The charging document alleges that Randazzo also used his consulting business, SFA, to carry out an embezzlement scheme, funneling to himself at least a million dollars meant for an association of large, industrial energy users in Ohio.
Randazzo was the general counsel of the industry group for multiple years, including from 2010 until his PUCO appointment, and at times served as the industry group's executive director. Randazzo controlled the industry group's bank accounts.
It is alleged Randazzo entered into settlements with companies on behalf of the industry group and kept portions of the settlement payments for himself. As one method to conceal his alleged embezzling, Randazzo allegedly created a fictitious member of the industry group that received payments along with legitimate members.
For example, in March 2019, it is alleged Randazzo attempted to conceal his embezzling by wiring approximately $1.1 million between bank accounts under his control.
If convicted as charged, the defendant could face up to 20 years in prison.
Kenneth L. Parker, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, and J. William Rivers, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cincinnati Division, announced the charges and acknowledged assistance provided by the Ohio Ethics Commission. Deputy Criminal Chief Emily N. Glatfelter and Assistant United States Attorney Matthew C. Singer are representing the United States in this case.
An indictment merely contains allegations, and defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.
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