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Stage is set for trial of Larry Householder and Ohio’s largest corruption case

House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) walks out of the federal courthouse in Columbus, after making an initial appearance by video. He was arrested Tuesday, as were former Ohio GOP Chair Matt Borges, Householder's advisor and two lobbyists.
Andy Chow
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Then-House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) walks out of the federal courthouse in Columbus, after making an initial appearance by video. He was arrested Tuesday, as were former Ohio GOP Chair Matt Borges, Householder's advisor and two lobbyists.

Attorneys have spent the last 30 months preparing for their arguments over a $61 million bribery scheme case involving the former Ohio House speaker, a large Ohio energy company, and a $1 billion nuclear power plant bailout.

FirstEnergy, a lobbyist connected to the utility, and a Republican political strategist have all admitted to their role in a bribery scheme that funneled tens of millions of dollars through a series of dark money groups that ultimately landed in a 501(c)4 called Generation Now, allegedly controlled by Larry Householder.

But Householder, the Republican former Ohio House speaker, has strongly denied that he was bribed to pass a billion-dollar nuclear power plant bailout law.

“I have not, nor have I ever took a bribe or provided a bribe. I have not nor have I ever solicited a bribe. And I have not nor have I ever sold legislation, never, ever,” Householder said on the Ohio House floor in June 2021.

Alleged scheme to gain power  

Federal prosecutors say Householder and an enterprise of other business leaders and lobbyists concocted a bribery scheme in 2016, when Householder was seeking to return to the House.

At that time, Householder was a Perry County auditor, who was seeking to return to the House after he was term-limited in 2004.

The plan involved FirstEnergy sending money to Generation Now which was operated by Householder and his political strategist Jeff Longstreth.

Longstreth, a co-defendant in the case, has admitted to organizing Generation Now at Householder’s direction and using that money to help Householder become speaker. In return, Householder was expected to pass the nuclear power plant bailout for FirstEnergy.

In July 2020, Householder was arrested and agents raided his home.

David DeVillers, who was U.S. attorney at the time before he was replaced under the Biden Administration in 2021, said the racketeering conspiracy helped Householder rake in $61 million for personal and political gain.

DeVillers said the charges were part of “what is likely the largest bribery, money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio.”

The charges were the result of evidence gathered by undercover agents, tips from legislators, and other informants. DeVillers said Householder built a “power base” to pursue his political ambitions by trading legislative favors.

“Make no mistake. These allegations were bribery, pure and simple. This was a quid pro quo. This was pay to play,” said DeVillers.

Politics, policymaking, and the nuclear bailout 

The prosecution has a list of exhibits to use as evidence, including a press conference from April 2019, the day Householder first unveiled the billion-dollar nuclear bailout, known as House Bill 6.

Supporters said the bill was needed because nuclear power was an important part of Ohio’s energy portfolio. But it was clear then that the bill checked several boxes on FirstEnergy’s legislative agenda. It bailed out its nuclear plants, subsidized coal plants it partially owned, and eliminated green energy standards.

Householder said during the 2019 press conference that there was no connection between FirstEnergy’s political contributions and the bailout bill.

“You know anytime you have folks that have a significant investment in the state of Ohio, they’re job creators in the state of Ohio, the direction of the state of Ohio’s important to them,” Householder said.

Watch: Larry Householder hold press conference to introduce House Bill 6 in 2019

Two years later, FirstEnergy signed a deferred prosecution agreement with a $230 million fine, admitting to bribing public officials in exchange for legislative and regulatory benefits.

House Bill 6 passed in 2019, with the support of 58 Republicans and 12 Democrats in the House and Senate.

Attempt to repeal HB 6  

An effort to get voters to repeal the bill was blocked with a multi-million dollar campaign of counter petitions, payoffs and threats to signature gatherers, and TV ads and mailers – all allegedly funded by Generation Now and other dark money organizations.

Matt Borges will also be on trial. He’s the former Ohio Republican Party chair and former FirstEnergy lobbyist. Borges allegedly offered to pay off a consultant who was working on the effort to repeal HB6.

Borges has repeatedly said he did nothing wrong.

“Innocent people fight, guilty people try to make a deal,” Borges said on The State of Ohio in August 2021. “The lesson I want to teach my daughter when this is all said and done is when you’re accused of something you didn’t do, you fight, and you prove that you didn’t do these things.”

Stage is set for trial 

Two other co-defendants, Householder’s strategist Longstreth and FirstEnergy lobbyist Juan Cespedes, have agreed to plea deals. Neil Clark, a prominent lobbyist who was close to Householder, was also charged, but died by suicide in March 2021. The organizers of Generation Now have also admitted guilt.

Other high-profile leaders have been subpoenaed for the potential to testify, including Attorney General Dave Yost (R-Ohio). Court documents show there are two potential witnesses who have been granted immunity.

Their identities were not revealed in the filings.

Judge Timothy Black of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio has said the policy and merits of HB 6 will not be considered during the trial.

But Householder’s defense is expected to make the case that HB 6 was emblematic of most policymaking in Ohio, where business back the candidates they believe will support the bills they want passed.

Contact Andy at achow@statehousenews.org.