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Lucas County man brings class-action lawsuit against FirstEnergy

Source: 
The Blade

Aug. 1--A FirstEnergy Corp. customer from Toledo filed a class-action lawsuit Friday in federal court in Cincinnati seeking to block the utility from imposing a rate increase and to assess damages against it related to a scandalized surcharge for nuclear power plants.

Lawyers representing James Buldas, 62, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio 10 days after the FBI arrested now former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four others July 21 and charged them as co-conspirators in a nearly $61 million bribery and racketeering scheme tied to last year's passage and subsequent defense of a law bailing out two nuclear plants.

According to his Facebook page, Mr. Buldas is a counseling psychologist in private practice at Thera-Med Solutions, of which he is president.

In his complaint, Mr. Buldas alleged that FirstEnergy Corp., its subsidiary FirstEnergy Service Company, and four "hands-on" managers "knowingly and intentionally acted in concert and conspired with" Mr. Householder and others named in a federal indictment -- "collectively the members of the 'Householder Enterprise'" -- to engage in activities that affected interstate commerce and violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Named in the lawsuit as individual defendants are FirstEnergy managers Charles Jones, James Pearson, Steve Strah, and Jon Taylor.

Mr. Householder, a veteran Republican lawmaker, pushed for passage of House Bill 6, which was designed to funnel about $1 billion from surcharges on consumer bills to bail out the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Oak Harbor and the Perry nuclear plant east of Cleveland, both of which were formerly owned by a FirstEnergy subsidiary but now are operated by an independent, offshoot company.

Authorities accuse Mr. Householder, ousted Thursday as Speaker by the Ohio House of Representatives, of conspiring with a nonprofit company called Generation Now from March, 2017, to March, 2020, to enact the bill and then work to kill a subsequent ballot effort designed to repeal it. The money flowed into Generation Now from an unidentified energy company and its affiliates, authorities allege.

Generation Now is a named defendant in the federal indictment, as are Jeff Longstreth, a key adviser to Mr. Householder; Neil Clark, a high-profile Columbus lobbyist; Matthew Borges, a former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, and Juan Cespedes, another Columbus lobbyist.

"As a direct and proximate result of the violations of RICO and/or the Ohio Corrupt Activity Act described in this Complaint, Plaintiff and Class members have suffered substantial injuries," Mr. Buldas' lawsuit states. "Plaintiff and Class members have and/or will pay monthly surcharges that range from 85 cents per month for residential customers to $2,400 per month for commercial customers operating large industrial plants, thus constituting an injury to Plaintiff and Class members."

Along with a demand for a jury trial, the lawsuit seeks a declaration that House Bill 6 is "illegal and invalid legislation" and that all charges to be collected pursuant to it be enjoined. It also seeks payment to Mr. Buldas and other class members of actual damages, treble damages, statutory damages, and any relevant interest on amounts awarded.

The lawsuit was filed on Mr. Buldas' behalf by Toledo lawyer Richard Kerger of Kerger Law Firm LLC; Marvin Miller and Andrew Szot, both of Miller Law LLC, Chicago; and Kevin Roddy of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A., Woodbridge, NJ.

Jennifer Young, a FirstEnergy Corp. spokesman, said Friday she was "unable to comment on the lawsuit."

"What I can say is FirstEnergy Corp. does not own or operate the nuclear power plants, and we do not receive any revenues from their operation. In addition, none of the nuclear funding from House Bill 6 goes to FirstEnergy."

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(c)2020 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

Visit The Blade (Toledo, Ohio) at www.toledoblade.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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