4 plead not guilty in $60M public corruption case

Protesters surround car of Matthew Borges

Ex-Speaker Larry Householder's arraignment has been delayed.

Four men charged with racketeering in a public corruption case each pleaded not guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court while the arraignment of former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder was delayed.

Former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges, lobbyists Juan Cespedes and Neil Clark and Householder’s political strategist Jeff Longstreth submitted their not guilty pleas at their arraignments held via videoconference before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Karen L. Litkovitz.

Householder, R-Glenford, was granted a delay while he hires a new defense team. His current attorneys have asked the court to allow them to withdraw from the case, citing a conflict of interest.

No legal counsel appeared on behalf of Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) organization that allegedly acted as a conduit for bribes flowing to Householder’s enterprise.

Householder, Borges, Longstreth, Clark and Cespedes are accused of using nearly $61 million from an energy company widely reported to be FirstEnergy and its subsidiaries to build political power and pass and defend a bailout law for the Akron-based companies.

They used the cash filtered through dark money groups to elect pro-Householder candidates to legislative seats in 2018 and engineer Householder’s return as House speaker in January 2019, prosecutors say. Householder in turn helped pass House Bill 6, which provided a $1.3 billion bailout to FirstEnergy Solutions. When a referendum campaign sought to block the bill from becoming law, Householder and his allies used the energy company cash to defeat the effort, the feds say.

U.S. Attorney David DeVillers has called it the biggest public bribery scheme in Ohio history.

Federal prosecutors do not identify Company A and two subsidiaries by name in the criminal complaint but it is a reference to Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., FirstEnergy Solutions and FirstEnergy Service Co. FirstEnergy spun off its generation business into FirstEnergy Solutions, which filed for bankruptcy in March 2018 and emerged in February 2020 as Akron-based Energy Harbor.

FirstEnergy Service Co., provides FirstEnergy with “legal, financial and other corporation support services” and provided most of the money sent to Generation Now, according to an FBI affidavit. First Energy Corp. CEO Chuck Jones also leads FirstEnergy Service Co.

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The case is assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Black, who was nominated to the court by President Barack Obama and confirmed in 2010.

Larry Householder leaves U.S. District Court