CINCINNATI (WCMH) — Closing arguments were made Tuesday in the corruption trial against former Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder and former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party Matt Borges.
Both men face up to 20 years in prison if they are found guilty in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme to pass First Energy bailout legislation House Bill 6.
Matt Singer, US Attorney for the Southern District Court, presented the closing argument for the prosecution, taking about three hours.
One of Householder’s defense attorneys, Steven Bradley, presented the closing argument for his client, taking about two hours.
“In this case, one thing was clear: Mr. Householder was on top,” Singer said. “He was the one they answered to.”
Singer explained to the 14-person jury that there was a need to prove conspiracy to commit racketeering activity, he said there are four elements:
- That the enterprise existed
- That the enterprise was engaged in
- That the defendant was employed/associated with the enterprise
- That the defendant ‘conspired’ to participate through a pattern of racketeering activity
Singer said a “pattern” of racketeering activity means two acts.
“Remember you only need two acts of racketeering to convict, there are dozens and dozens,” he said. “What the evidence does show is that there was an enterprise. They did this to further this political machine and to enrich themselves.”
First Energy put nearly $60 million into a 501(c)(4) called Generation Now, allegedly controlled by Householder, between 2017 and 2020.
There were 56 non-First Energy contributors to Generation Now; combined they gave just over $4 million to Generation Now.
First Energy’s first payment to Generation Now was made one month after the 501(c)(4) was created. Singer said payments were paid about every three to four months, whenever Householder asked.
“Rinse, wash, repeat,” Singer said. “Larry Householder received almost $60 million from First Energy bank accounts, with the understanding that he will pass legislation.”
“It’s just a theory or allegation,” Bradley said about the accusation of bribery. “Larry supported legislation that was beneficial to these power plants because he believed it was good policy. It was consistent with his long-held political views regarding the importance of energy generation in Ohio.”
Bradley said the money was originally used to support campaigns.
“Then in 2019, that’s the big bucks there, that’s not bribe money, that’s money that was used to fund a statewide education campaign [about HB6],” Bradley said.
And Bradley said in 2020, it was the same thing, “funding a statewide education campaign regarding a term-limits initiative.”
“There’s been a lot of testimony about Generation Now and that ‘Larry controlled Generation Now.’ Jeff [Longstreth] controlled Generation Now, not Larry,” Bradley said.
Bradley maintained that Householder urged the passage of this legislation because he believed in it, not because he was bribed.
“There was no bribery,” Bradley said several times during his closing statement.
Bradley said the government could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that “Householder advanced HB6 as part of an explicit agreement.”
Public official bribery requires an explicit quid pro quo, “but it need not be expressed,” Singer said.
“First Energy had what Larry Householder needed: unlimited cash,” Singer said. “And Larry Householder had was First Energy needed: a path to pass legislation.”
Much of the pay-to-play plan was allegedly discussed at a Washington D.C. dinner in January 2017. Householder testified that he was not at that dinner, despite schedules and photos that the prosecution said shows otherwise.
Singer said Householder had a pattern of concealment, from his testimony to call logs and text messages that he deleted, to the creation of a 501(c)(4) to hide transactions.
“The reasonable inference is that it’s concealment. Why would he hide it? Because it’s evidence of his corruption,” Singer said.”
“The government’s whole theory is that’s when the bribery scheme was hatched, and these documents [flight records] show that’s not true,” Bradley said.
The prosecution also highlighted texts, calls, and emails that the jury saw during the seven-week trial. In an October 2018 meeting, Householder received a $400,000 check from First Energy. Last week, Householder testified that the meeting lasted ten minutes and that he looked in the envelope, only after being asked to, but did not take the check out.
The prosecution showed a text, the same day Householder received the check, where he texted then-First Energy CEO Chuck Jones, “$400k…thank you.”
But Bradley said that the government’s investigation and case was incomplete.
Bradley listed people who the government did not call to the stand, like Attorney General David Yost, who was subpoenaed, Gov. Mike DeWine, who signed the bill into law, and lawmakers who supported HB6.
“All because that doesn’t fit their narrative,” Bradley said. “That is government bias on full display.”
Bradley also pointed out that the prosecution never called then-Senate President Larry Obhof to the stand.
“The government talks about Larry passing the bill, but that’s not how it works,” Bradley said. “We’ve got the House, the Senate and the governor.”
The prosecution later objected to this claim and said it is “misleading” to say the government’s case was “incomplete” when referring to people who did not testify, especially those who took the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. Judge Timothy Black instructed the jury not to draw “any inferences or any conclusions as to what they would have testified had they been called.” Black said both parties had equal opportunity to call these witnesses to the stand.
Attorney Karl Schneider presented a closing argument on behalf of Borges.
The prosecution also argued that while Householder was on top of the enterprise, Borges entered it with an understanding of what was going on.
“Borges entered it eyes wide open,” Singer said. “He knew about Generation Now and he wanted in.”
Singer said Borges worked directly with the enterprise members, showing call logs of Borges talking with Householder’s Chief Political Aide Jeff Longstreth, First Energy lobbyist Juan Cespedes, and lobbyist Neil Clark several times within two weeks.
The prosecution played a phone call where Borges called the group working with Householder, including himself, an “unholy alliance.”
“’Unholy alliance,’” Schneider said. “Are any of you going to go to the bank saying the use of that expression is proof beyond a reasonable doubt?”
Schneider said Borges used that term to describe an unlikely team.
Schneider’s closing argument separated Borges from Householder and the racketeering scheme. He said that Borges did not even support Householder in the race for Speaker in early 2019.
“Matt Borges was never an insider and if he was an insider, he wasn’t an enterpriser,” Schneider said.
Jury deliberations could begin as soon as Wednesday once the prosecution offers its rebuttal to the defense’s closing arguments, set to start in the morning.