CINCINNATI (AP) — New details emerged Thursday at the trial of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder on the use of the state plane scheduled to bring state lawmakers back to Columbus to vote on the now-tainted nuclear bailout legislation at the heart of Ohio’s largest ever corruption case.
Text messages presented to jurors in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, where Householder and lobbyist Matt Borges are facing racketeering charges in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme, featured Householder telling a group of lawmakers who were out of town at an event that the aircraft was coming to get them.
Michael Dowling, FirstEnergy's since-fired vice president for external affairs, then appeared in the text messages to revel in the plane's procurement on behalf of a bill the Akron-based energy company cared deeply about. FirstEnergy has admitted to secretly funding the scheme to pass House Bill 6 as part of a deferred prosecution agreement.
“The state plane has been arranged to come get you, Tom Brinkman and Bob Cupp on Tuesday morning at Midway and return you to Chicago that afternoon. Jay Edwards will be calling you,” Householder texted an unidentified legislator on July 21, 2019.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s then-chief of staff, Laurel Dawson — married to a FirstEnergy consultant — approved the expense. ”Mike Dawson’s wife. Boom,” Dowling wrote.
DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney said the only consideration by the governor's office in deploying the plane was that it was a request of the speaker. Tierney said such requests are “rare,” but that state officials are able to request the aircraft if need be.
Tierney said Dowling appeared to be promoting his own worth to his employer.
“He's a paid lobbyist and FirstEnergy clearly had an expectation that their lobbyists show they're earning the fees that we’re paying you,” Tierney said. “We've seen communications throughout this case that were either flat-out incorrect or taking credit for stuff they weren’t involved in. This is taking credit for something he wasn't involved in.”
Mike Dawson declined comment.
The flight to retrieve the lawmakers ultimately never took place.