CLEVELAND — One of the nation’s largest electric utility holding companies under investigation by multiple federal agencies announced Monday that it had hired a new ethics and compliance officer.
FirstEnergy is the parent company for 10 electric distribution utilities serving customers in six states. Two of the distribution utilities are in northern and eastern West Virginia.
Akron-based FirstEnergy said in a news release that Antonio Fernandez will join the company on April 12. He had been chief compliance and privacy officer for Public Service Enterprise Group, a publicly traded electric utility based in Newark, New Jersey.
“Antonio’s skills and experience will be instrumental in reinforcing FirstEnergy’s core values and behaviors and further embedding compliance, ethics and integrity into the company’s culture,” company board Chair Donald Misheff said.
The U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are investigating FirstEnergy for its role in what authorities say was a $60 million bribery scandal in Ohio.
The company has been accused by federal authorities of secretly funding a $60 million bribery scheme led by then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder to win legislative approval for an energy bill that would have provided $1 billion in subsidies for two aging nuclear power plants in the state.
The plants were operated by a wholly owned FirstEnergy subsidiary when the legislation passed in July 2019. A new independent company took ownership of the plants and other FirstEnergy assets in February 2020 in a deal struck in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
FirstEnergy fired Ebony Yeboah-Amankwah, a vice president and chief ethics officer, and Robert Reffner, a senior vice president and chief legal officer, in November without explaining the dismissals.
The company announced days earlier that CEO Chuck Jones and two other top executives had been fired for violating company policy and its code of ethics.
Householder, a Republican, and four other men were indicted in July on federal conspiracy charges. Householder pleaded not guilty.
An FBI criminal complaint detailed how FirstEnergy executives interacted with Householder and others indicted in the alleged scheme, including 84 phone contacts between Jones and Householder from February 2017 through July 2019, when the tainted energy bill was approved and quickly signed by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.