Judge orders unfreezing of assets of regulator accused of taking bribe
Then-PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo testifies as an interested party regarding House Bill 6 on May 7, 2019. Source: Ohio Channel.
An appellate judge ordered Wednesday that the government must unfreeze the millions of dollars in bank accounts of Sam Randazzo, a former state utility regulator who was implicated in a public corruption scandal.
Last summer, a civil suit led by Attorney General Dave Yost won a judgement freezing up to $8 million from several accounts from Randazzo.
Randazzo, formerly chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, has not been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing. However, Akron-based utility FirstEnergy Corp. said in a criminal case against the company that it paid Randazzo a $4.3 million bribe in exchange for favorable regulatory treatment.
In the same filing, the company said it also engaged in a $60 million bribery scheme centered on former House Speaker Larry Householder to pass a bailout and other favorable legislation worth $1.3 billion to the company. Householder awaits trial on a charge of racketeering in January 2023.
While Randazzo has not been criminally charged, Yost named him as a defendant in a related civil lawsuit seeking damages for the state. In August 2021, Yost’s attorneys said they were concerned Randazzo might transfer or conceal his assets to shield them from the litigation. They cited Randazzo’s various property sales for millions in Ohio and Florida.
However, Judge Laurel Beatty Blunt, of the 10th District Court of Appeals, said the lower court failed to show any good reason that there would be “irreparable injury” if Randazzo maintained control of the accounts. She called the lower court’s review “cursory at best” and said it “provided no real explanation for its ultimate findings.” She also said Yost’s office provided no clear explanation for the basis of why it needed to seize up to $8 million.
The opinion notes it’s not a ruling regarding the underlying accusations against Randazzo, but rather a narrow ruling focused on his due process rights as weighed against the state’s interest.
Randazzo’s attorney declined to comment on the ruling. A spokeswoman for Yost didn’t answer questions about an appeal and said they’re considering the next steps.
It’s unclear precisely how much of Randazzo’s assets were frozen, although several clues lie in court filings. A representative from Charles Schwab & Co.’s legal department said in a letter that Randazzo’s two accounts with the bank are worth nearly $3 million.
Court records show other accounts belonging to Randazzo with both JP Morgan Chase and Huntington Bank were both frozen.
Charles Miller, an attorney for Yost, said in an email to Randazzo’s attorney that’s attached to court filings that the state has “substantial concerns” that these funds will be “dissipated by law firm billings.”
In a related affidavit to the court detailing Randazzo’s assets, Miller noted Randazzo owns a 1994 Mazda Miata, a 2002 pink Porsche 911 Carrera convertible, and a 2015 Porsche Macan. Randazzo’s attorney, Roger Sugarman, said in an email that no tangible property of Randazzo’s has been seized.
As the Ohio Capital Journal previously reported, after FBI agents were seen entering and removing boxes of material from Randazzo’s home, he sold off $4.8 million in property. This includes a $0 transfer of a Columbus property to his son.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.