© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
News

Two Defendants Plead Guilty In HB6 Corruption Case

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder leaves the federal courthouse after an initial hearing following charges against him and four others alleging a $60 million bribery scheme Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio.
Jay LaPrete
/
AP
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder leaves the federal courthouse after an initial hearing following charges against him and four others alleging a $60 million bribery scheme Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio.

Two defendants in the $61 million HB6 racketeering case have changed their pleas to "guilty" after reaching a deal with prosecutors and admitting to their roles in the alleged bribery scheme.

The investigation into the sweeping energy bill, HB6, alleges former House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) and four others of carrying out one of the largest corruption scandals in Ohio history.

Juan Cespedes, 41, and Jeffrey Longstreth, 44, both pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday, over video conference, to charges of participating in a racketeering conspiracy. Cespedes was a lobbyist for FirstEnergy as the legislature worked on passing HB6. Longstreth has been known to be Householder's chief political strategist. 

Federal investigators say an unnamed utility, listed as "Company A" in the affidavit but believed to be FirstEnergy, funneled millions of dollars into a dark money group, which went on to put pressure on legislators to vote for HB6 through ads and mailers. The dark money group, Generation Now, also funded an aggressive campaign against an attempted citizen's referendum to overturn HB6. 

"Today’s guilty pleas by Longstreth & Cespedes move the HB6 racketeering scandal from allegation to admitted fact," said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost in a tweet. "The only remaining question: 'who else?'"

Yost has launched a civil suit over HB6, seeking to block subsidies created by customer rate increases from going to two nuclear plants owned by former FirstEnergy subsidiary Energy Harbor. He also wants to ban Householder and other defendants from holding any government office or position in a political organization for eight years, ban them from lobbying for eight years, and pay damages to the state.

The federal investigation accuses Householder of having control of Generation Now and the decisions it made. Prosecutors say Householder was able to use that money both for personal and political gain, helping allies get elected to the Ohio House and then elect him as Speaker in 2019. 

"In his plea, Longstreth admits to organizing Generation Now for Householder, knowing the entity would be used to receive bribe money to further Householder’s bid for Speaker of the House," reads a Justice Department press release. "Longstreth managed Generation Now bank accounts and engaged in financial transactions designed to conceal that the energy company was a source of funding to Generation Now.

"Cespesdes also pleaded guilty to his role in the racketeering enterprise and admitted that he orchestrated payments to Generation Now," it continued. "Cespedes knew the payments were meant to help Householder achieve political goals, and in return, help pass and preserve the nuclear bailout legislation."

Cespedes and Longstreth's attorneys said their clients decided to plead guilty after reviewing the government's evidence. Sentencing dates have yet to be set.

Householder, who was ejected as Speaker soon after being indicted, has pleaded "not guilty" to the same charges, which carry a potential punishment of up to 20 years of prison. Charges have also been filed against Generation Now, as well as Ohio GOP chair Matt Borges and Neil Clark, both of whom pleaded not guilty.

Householder is expected to win re-election to his House seat this fall, although several Republicans and Democrats are running against him as write-ins.