Nonprofit group at center of $60M statehouse corruption case to plead guilty

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

A nonprofit that federal prosecutors allege state Rep. Larry Householder used to push through a nuclear bailout bill and become speaker of the Ohio House has agreed to plead guilty to racketeering charges in a settlement agreement filed in U.S. District Court on Friday.

The 501(c)(4) nonprofit Generation Now, which doesn’t have to disclose its donors, was at the center of the purported scheme that prosecutors call the largest corruption case in state history. Prosecutors say $61 million passed through Generation Now, advancing Householder’s political aims and helping him pass the nuclear bailout bill, House Bill 6.

Jeff Longstreth, Householder’s longtime political strategist who prosecutors allege created Generation Now, pleaded guilty to racketeering last year, as did lobbyist Juan Cespedes.

Householder, former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges and lobbyist Neil Clark have all pleaded not guilty.

Neither Householder nor his attorney returned calls seeking comment Friday.

“I never broke the law, nor did I intend to break the law. I didn’t conspire to break the law, and I wasn’t aware of anyone else breaking any laws,” Borges said on Friday.

The U.S. Attorneys Office declined to comment on the settlement agreement until it is accepted by the court at a future plea hearing. An attorney for Generation Now did not return a call seeking comment.

“My client is not guilty,” said William Ireland, an attorney for Clark on Friday. “The government has the burden of proof here.”

The settlement agreement was signed by Longstreth as representative of Generation Now.

In the settlement agreement Generation Now agrees that federal prosecutors could prove at trial that from 2016 through July 21, 2020, the nonprofit conspired with the other five defendants. Generation Now agrees the prosecutors could prove Householder directed Generation Now to be formed for his benefit, and he used it to receive undisclosed donations to advance his efforts to become speaker, according to the court documents.

“As part of the conspiracy, Generation Now received money from Company A (as defined in the indictment) for the benefit of the defendants and others in return for specific official action by Householder relating to the passage and preservation of legislation that would go into effect and save the operation of two nuclear power plants in Ohio,” says a statement of facts agreed to by the nonprofit.

Federal prosecutors used pseudonyms for the companies allegedly involved in the scheme but descriptions used in the 81-page criminal complaint indicate Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. and its former subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions are Company A and Company A-1. FirstEnergy Solutions, which operates two nuclear power plants in northern Ohio, emerged from bankruptcy in February under a new name, Energy Harbor.

Generation Now engaged in financial transactions to conceal the payments by the company, the statement of facts also says.

The settlement agreement says Generation Now forfeits assets including $1.5 million in its bank accounts.

“Generation Now admits there was a quid pro quo, that they funneled this money to Larry Householder for direct support and passage of House Bill 6. It was a direct bribe,” said Environmental Law & Policy Center senior attorney Rob Kelter.

“Generation Now has signed a clear admission of guilt. It’s time for the legislature to repeal this tainted, corrupt bill and it’s time for the Public Utilities Commission to do a full investigation into FirstEnergy’s role in the scandal.”