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Ohio utility at center of $60 million bribery case fires CEO

Posted at 5:58 PM, Oct 30, 2020

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A power company under investigation for its role in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme involving one of Ohio’s most powerful politicians fired its chief executive following an internal review.

FirstEnergy Corp. said its investigation found that CEO Chuck Jones and two other company officials who were fired Thursday violated company policies and its code of conduct.

The company said its review was related to government investigations into the company, but it did not disclose any details about what it found.

The firings came just hours after two Ohio political operatives pleaded guiltyto conspiring in a scheme aimed at bailing out two aging nuclear power plants that once were owned by FirstEnergy.

Up until now, FirstEnergy and its executives have denied any wrongdoing and they still have not been criminally charged. Federal investigators have said the company and its associates secretly funneled millions to secure a $1 billion legislative bailout for the two unprofitable Ohio nuclear plants, then operated by an independently controlled subsidiary called FirstEnergy Solutions.

Jones had long insisted that Akron-based FirstEnergy had no financial stake in rescuing the plants because they were operated by FirstEnergy Solutions. Yet nearly all of the money used to fund the scheme, authorities said, came from the corporation itself.

FirstEnergy, in a filing made with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, said Jones and the other two executives have forfeited or are no longer eligible to receive awards from various incentive compensation plans.

A committee comprised of independent board members conducting an internal investigation into the company’s role in the alleged bribery scheme said it is “considering whether recoupment, reductions or forfeiture of other grants, awards and compensation may be warranted,” the filing said.

FirstEnergy also said the internal investigation “remains ongoing.”

Critics say the bailout bill helped smooth the way for FirstEnergy to officially shift ownership of the nuclear plants and two coal-burning power plants to its creditors in federal bankruptcy court in February. Shedding the plants allowed the corporation to focus on its profitable business of powering 6 million customers in Ohio and other states.

Shortly after federal investigators arrested Republican Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four others amid the $60 million federal bribery probe, Jones said he believed the company had acted ethically.

“Let me be clear, at no time did our support for Ohio’s nuclear plants interfere with or supersede our ethical obligations to conduct our business properly,” Jones told investors in July. “The facts will become clear as the investigation progresses.”

Jones could not be reached for comment Friday. It was not immediately clear whether he has an attorney.

FirstEnergy said on Thursday it also fired two of its senior vice presidents and had appointed company President Steven Strah as its acting CEO.

The company plans to announce its third quarter results on Monday.

Associated Press writer Mark Gillispie contributed from Cleveland.