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Firm gets more time to explain bills for bailout legislation

MARK GILLISPIE
Associated Press

Published: July 22, 2021

CLEVELAND (AP) — A federal bankruptcy judge recently gave law firm employees another three months to explain in detail the millions of dollars they billed for lobbying and other work on behalf of an electric utility in support of a now-tainted Ohio energy bill.
Judge Alan Koschik told three partners and a senior policy adviser at the national firm Akin Gump they have until Oct. 12 to submit documentation.
The four submitted $3.3 million in bills to the court for their work from March 2018 until February 2020 in support of FirstEnergy Solutions' bankruptcy and lobbying for a $1 billion bailout for two nuclear plants operated at the time by the wholly-owned FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary.
FirstEnergy Corp. and former top executives have been implicated by federal authorities in a $60 million bribery scheme to help elect supporters of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder in 2018, win passage of the bailout bill, and prevent a repeal referendum from reaching the Ohio ballot.
Householder and four associates were indicted in July 2020 on federal racketeering charges. Householder has pleaded not guilty.
A newly formed company called Energy Harbor took ownership of the two Ohio nuclear plants and other FirstEnergy assets in February 2020 in a deal struck in Bankruptcy Court.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, Energy Harbor attorney Jonathan Streeter told Judge Koschik the four men had completed the declarations the judge had asked for last November but believe making them public now while Energy Harbor cooperates with federal prosecutors would be detrimental.
Akin Gump billed $65.5 million for 73,000 hours of work related to the bankruptcy and lobbying over that two-year period.
Akin Gump partners Sean D'Arcy, Henry Terhune and James Tucker billed just over $3 million for work they performed for FirstEnergy Solutions. Senior policy adviser Geoffrey Verhoff billed $372,000. Koschik in his original order referred to the four as Akin Gump's "Ohio statehouse team."
Koschik asked the men to provide a detailed explanation of their listed time and expense entries for the following:
__ Their roles in the selection of House speaker in 2018 and 2019. Householder was elected speaker in January 2019.
__ Roles in the 2018 legislative elections. An FBI affidavit filed the day of the arrests said FirstEnergy secretly provided a dark money group controlled by Householder with millions to help support candidates who Householder needed to win the speakership and get the bailout bill approved.
__ Interactions and their relationship with Juan Cespedes, a FirstEnergy lobbyist who has pleaded guilty to racketeering.
__ Their roles in votes that led to the passage of HB6. Koschik ordered D'Arcy to explain "what acts were involved in 'mobilizing the HB6 vote' in July 2019."
__ Whether they or any other Akin Gump professionals advised FirstEnergy Solutions on a $1.9 million payment made to the dark money group, Generation Now, on July 5, 2019, and any other money transfers to Generation Now, the conduit for FirstEnergy's millions in the alleged bribery scheme.
__ Whether the four were aware of or advised FirstEnergy Solutions about Generation Now before the plants were transferred to Energy Harbor's ownership.


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