CINCINNATI (WCMH) — The public corruption trial of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder begins Monday over accusations he helped orchestrate the largest bribery scheme in state history.
Householder, 63, of Glenford, will appear in Cincinnati court nearly three years after the FBI arrested him on federal racketeering charges related to a $61 million quid pro quo agreement with Akron-based FirstEnergy. Householder and four others are accused of helping pass House Bill 6 – a $1 billion ratepayer-funded nuclear power plant bailout – for cash and the Speaker seat.
“I fully intend to walk into a courtroom in Cincinnati and walk out a free man and innocent,” Householder said in June 2021, one day before his colleagues expelled him from office.
Alongside Householder, the FBI charged four political operatives and a dark money group with racketeering in connection to the case (only two of them, Householder and Borges, have pleaded not guilty):
- Mathew Borges, of Bexley, a lobbyist and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman
- Jeffrey Longstreth, of Columbus, a longtime campaign and political strategist for Householder
- Neil Clark, of Columbus, a former lobbyist and budget director for the Ohio Republican Caucus who died by suicide in March 2021
- Juan Cespedes, of Columbus, a multi-client lobbyist
- Generation Now, a corporate entity registered as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization
From March 2017 to March 2020, federal investigators alleged that Householder and his co-conspirators accepted millions of dollars from FirstEnergy Corp. and its subsidiaries – with one caveat attached: The five-member “enterprise,” as the U.S. Attorney’s Office described it, must protect HB 6 and its bailout money designed for FirstEnergy’s own nuclear plants.
To execute the plan, Householder first needed to secure the Speaker seat. FirstEnergy and its subsidiaries bankrolled $250,000 quarterly payments into Generation Now – a dark money group secretly controlled by Householder – which the enterprise used to bolster the political campaigns of 21 state candidates, including Householder himself.
“When asked how much money was in Generation Now, Clark said, ‘it’s unlimited,’” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in 2020.
Donations to pro-Householder candidates and attack ads against his opponents proved successful, and in January 2019, Householder’s backers and 26 Democrats elected him as Speaker of the Ohio House.
Seven months into the job, Householder witnessed the enterprise’s dream come true: Gov. Mike DeWine signed HB 6 into law. Doing so saved the nuclear plants from closure, gutted energy and efficiency standards, and put Ohio ratepayers on the hook for pricier monthly electric bills.
But in the months that followed DeWine’s signature, a new threat to HB 6 emerged. Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts introduced a ballot initiative seeking to overturn HB 6, prompting Householder and his associates to wage an aggressive war against it – including funneling $15,000 to an informant with insider knowledge of the initiative and offering the group’s petitioners $2,500 if they ditched the signature-gathering, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Householder used more than $400,000 of the FirstEnergy-funneled money for his own gain, including to settle a personal lawsuit, maintain his Florida home and pay off thousands of dollars of credit card debt.
The enterprise’s alleged scheme came to a halt in July 2020, however, when federal agents arrested Householder and the four other suspects on federal racketeering charges.
In October 2020, two of the five operatives – Cespedes and Longstreth – pleaded guilty to racketeering and admitted to conspiring with Householder, Clark, Borges and Generation Now to help pass HB 6. Representatives with Generation Now followed suit months later. Clark died by suicide in March 2021.
Two former FirstEnergy executives, CEO Chuck Jones and Senior Vice President Michael Dowling, were accused this year of devising and orchestrating the company’s payments to Householder and his team.
Householder and Borges, however, have maintained their innocence since Day 1. Borges told NBC4 in June 2021 that he acted legally, and a month later, Householder said, “I’ve never solicited for a bribe, and I have never bribed or solicited someone else for a bribe.”
Both Householder and Borges face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of racketeering. The trial, which begins Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, is expected to last up to six weeks.