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Ex-PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo requests to move criminal trial from Cincinnati to Columbus

Sam Randazzo, former PUCO Chair, on "The State of Ohio"
Statehouse News Bureau
Sam Randazzo, former PUCO Chair, on "The State of Ohio"

Former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chair Samuel Randazzo is requesting that the judge in charge of his criminal case move the trial from Cincinnati to Columbus.

Randazzo, 74, is asking the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio Judge Timothy Black to transfer the trial from Black's courtroom to Columbus, citing his own health and that many of the witnesses the defense is likely to call live in the state capital. Randazzo was indicted and pleaded not guilty in December on charges he took more than $4.3 million in bribes from FirstEnergy, while he lead the government arm charged with regulating utility companies.

Randazzo and his legal team said in a filing Thursday that most of the key events in the indictment either allegedly occurred in Columbus or outside the Southern District court entirely in Akron where FirstEnergy is based.

The filing said that the defense's potential witnesses could include multiple parties that have closer connections to these two cities rather than Cincinnati:

  • Current and former PUCO Commissioners.
  • Members of the PUCO staff.
  • Members of Ohio’s executive branch of government.
  • Current and former Ohio state legislators.
  • Representatives of a company and industry group involved in the case.

Among other reasons for wanting to move the trial, the filing said Randazzo lives only two miles from Joseph. P. Kinneary U.S. Courthouse in Columbus. The U.S. Courthouse in Cincinnati is located about 100 miles from Columbus.
The filing claimed Randazzo suffers from chronic health issues that could make sitting in a car for long periods of time a problem.

Randazzo and his team asking to move the trial comes less than a year after former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was convicted and sentenced by Black to 20 years in prison for racketeering involving $60 million in bribes.

Randazzo was charged in December with 11 counts, including 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 served as chairman of PUCO from April 2019 until November 2020, when he resigned days after the FBI raided his home in Columbus. He had just been implicated in a FirstEnergy report that said several former executives improperly made a $4 million payment last year to a firm tied to a future Ohio utility regulator.

Randazzo is one of several public officials to be charged in the federal corruption investigation involving FirstEnergy, Householder and several top lobbyists. In addition to Householder's conviction, lobbyist Matt Borges, former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, was sentenced to five years.

Lobbyist Juan Cespedes and Jeffrey Longstreth, a top Householder political strategist, pleaded guilty in October 2020. The third person who was arrested, statehouse lobbyist Neil Clark, pleaded not guilty before dying by suicide in March 2021. The dark money group used to funnel FirstEnergy money, Generation Now, also pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge in February 2021.

All were accused of using the $60 million in secretly funded FirstEnergy cash to get Householder’s chosen Republican candidates elected to the House in 2018 and then to help him be elected speaker in January 2019. The money was then used to win passage of the tainted energy legislation, House Bill 6, and to conduct what authorities have said was a $38 million dirty-tricks campaign to prevent a repeal referendum from reaching the ballot.

Prosecutors have not yet filed a response to Randazzo's motion to move the trial to Columbus.

For more about Randazzo and the House Bill 6 scandal, listen to WOSU's The Power Grab podcast.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.