Utility company linked to HB6 bribery scheme changes executive team

Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. terminated its chief executive, Charles E. Jones Jr., and two senior vice presidents for violating company policies and its code of conduct, the company said in a statement released Thursday evening.

Senior Vice President of Product Development, Marketing and Branding Dennis Chack and SVP of External Affairs Mike Dowling were also terminated.

The house-cleaning comes just hours after two other men pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in a massive public corruption case centered around House Bill 6.

FirstEnergy advocated for the new energy law, which will deliver an estimated $355 million “decoupling” revenues to FirstEnergy, as well $1.3 billion in subsidies to Energy Harbor, a former FirstEnergy subsidiary that owns two nuclear power plants in Ohio.

FirstEnergy and Energy Harbor are not specifically named in an 82-page criminal complaint filed in the case but descriptions identify those companies as the ones that participated in a $60 million bribery scheme to get Republican Larry Householder elected Ohio House speaker, pass HB6 and then defend the bill from a referendum campaign.

In July, Householder and four others — lobbyists Neil Clark, Juan Cespedes and Matt Borges as well as political strategist Jeff Longstreth — were charged in U.S. District Court with racketeering.

Cespedes and Longstreth pleaded guilty on Thursday. The other three have pleaded not guilty.

FirstEnergy’s statement said that during the course of an internal review related to the government investigations, it was determined that the three executives violated policies.

FirstEnergy President Steven Strah will serve as acting CEO and FE board member Christopher Pappas will serve as executive director. Strah, who has worked at FE-related companies since 1984, was named president in May as part of the regular succession planning, the company said.

Some lawmakers and state leaders have called for a repeal of HB6 but that effort has stalled until at least after the election.

The repeal effort is among many complex issues the Akron-based utilities are facing, including shareholder lawsuits, an audit by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and a civil lawsuit filed by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to block the subsidies from flowing to Energy Harbor and other utilities.

FirstEnergy is scheduled to give its third-quarter earnings report on Monday, Nov. 2, before the markets open. Its stock price closed Thursday at $31.81 a share.

Who are the executives?

Chuck Jones, chief executive, FirstEnergy Corp.

Jones was hired as CEO in May 2015, replacing Anthony Alexander. In 2019, his compensation totaled $20.8 million, according to FirstEnergy filings with the SEC.

Jones began his career with Ohio Edison in 1978 as a substation engineer and worked his way up the ranks and became president of FirstEnergy Solutions in 2007 and later served in leadership posts in FirstEnergy Utilities. He became president and chief executive in January 2015 and added to the board of directors in May 2020. He earned an electrical engineering degree from University of Akron.

Mike Dowling, senior vice president for external affairs, FirstEnergy Service Co.

Dowling, 56, is the chief lobbyist for FirstEnergy at the local, state and federal levels. He joined Ohio Edison in 1986 as part of the communications team and shifted to government affairs in 1997. He’s held his current post since 2011.

Dennis Chack, senior vice president for product management, marketing and branding, FirstEnergy Service Co.

Chack was appointed to his current position in June 2015 but he began his career at Ohio Edison in transmission engineering in 1969. He held a number of management posts and was promoted to vice president of FirstEnergy Solutions two decades ago.

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