A jury found former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder guilty Thursday in a corruption scheme.
Householder was charged with racketeering, accused of accepting about $61 million in bribes from Akron-based FirstEnergy via dark money group Generation Now, first to make Householder speaker in 2019 and then to pass a $1.3 billion utility bailout.
“As presented by the trial team, Larry Householder illegally sold the statehouse, and thus he ultimately betrayed the great people of Ohio he was elected to serve,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker. “Matt Borges was a willing co-conspirator, who paid bribe money for insider information to assist Householder. Through its verdict today, the jury reaffirmed that the illegal acts committed by both men will not be tolerated and that they should be held accountable.”
The jury also found Borges, the former Ohio Republican Party chairman, guilty of racketeering.
The bill was signed into law on July 23, 2019, watering down renewable energy standards and bailing out two energy companies, including FirstEnergy Solutions, which owned two aging nuclear power plans along Lake Erie. FirstEnergy Solutions has since been renamed Harbor Energy.
Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, a coalition of business, consumer and environmental groups, opposed the bill and tried to gather enough signatures to put it up for referendum in November 2020.
Supporters of the bailout spent more than $16 million on ads, $9.5 million of which came from Generation Now. The organization running the campaign against the referendum told Ohioans that the Chinese were attempting to infiltrate the power grid and take people’s personal information.
In the face of the fierce opposition the referendum attempt failed to gather enough signatures, and the law went into effect on Oct. 22, 2019.
In July 2020, the FBI arrested Householder, as well as Matt Borges, political strategist Jeff Longstreth and lobbyists Juan Cespedes and Neil Clark, who were all accused of funneling the millions in bribes from FirstEnergy through the dark money group Generation Now.
Investigators said the money was spent on positioning Householder as speaker, passing House Bill 6, defeating the referendum attempt and on personal expenses for Householder, including paying off his credit cards, settling an Alabama lawsuit and repairing his Florida home.
Longstreth and Cespedes later pleaded guilty to racketeering and agreed to testify against Householder, while Clark died by suicide in March 2021.
Generation Now also pleaded guilty to participating in a racketeering conspiracy, and FirstEnergy entered into an agreement to escape prosecution by admitting to the bribes and agreeing to pay a $230 million penalty.
During the trial, Longstreth said that after the bailout passed, he and Householder also mounted an effort to make him speaker for the foreseeable future, turning to utilities FirstEnergy and AEP for the $15-20 million he estimated ads would cost. He said that Householder secured pledges of support in February, but that the plans fell apart.
“COVID started in March and then we were arrested in July,” Longstreth said.
The trial for Borges and Householder started on Jan. 23.
In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Singer argued Householder received millions from FirstEnergy in an undisclosed account, according to the Associated Press.
“It was undisclosed, it was unreported, and he received the money knowing that FirstEnergy Corp. and FirstEnergy Solutions expected legislation in return,” Singer said. “This is called bribery.”
Householder’s defense claimed the case stemmed from an incomplete evidence and government bias.
“The bottom line is that Larry Householder was engaged in political activity, not criminal activity,” Steven Bradley said.
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