COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The guilty verdicts for former Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder and former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party Matt Borges came as a shock to some, but they were a relief for whistleblower Tyler Fehrman.
“Because it meant I could finally tell my side of the story,” Fehrman said in an interview. “It meant there were consequences for bad actors, and that they’re being held accountable.”
Fehrman knew Householder and Borges for years, he said, but considered Borges a close friend and mentor. When Fehrman received a call to manage the House Bill 6 referendum campaign — the legislation involved in the $60 million bribery scheme — Borges was his first call.
“I didn’t want to damage our personal or professional relationship,” Fehrman said. “But he told me ‘It’s politics, we are going to be on opposite sides sometimes, don’t worry about it.’”
Fehrman said, however, everything started to get murky shortly after he took that job.
Borges was working on the effort to uphold the legislation — and called him and asked to meet for coffee, Fehrman said.
Fehrman did not think much of it, because they would regularly do so, but this time was different. Borges started asking him for information on how the campaign was going, how many signatures they had collected and where the petitioners were located.
“Then, (he) proceeded to ask me how much I had left on my car loan, asked me about some personal financial circumstances I was experiencing and told me all those things would be taken care of if I would just give him the information he was looking for,” Fehrman said. “At one point he told me that having that information would make him a hero with his team.”
After leaving that meeting, Fehrman said he waited a few hours, then texted Borges that he could not “in good conscience” take that offer. He will never forget Borges’ answer.
“He responded and said, ‘No matter what, don’t ever tell anyone about that conversation,’” Fehrman said. “And walking out of that conversation, when I left, I knew it was wrong. That made it feel exponentially worse because he was acknowledging it was wrong.”
The prosecution showed those text messages in the courtroom.
After those interactions, Fehrman’s close friend advised him to call law enforcement, and passed along FBI Agent Blane Wetzel’s contact information. Fehrman said he gave Wetzel high-level information, and then Wetzel asked to meet the next day.
“The overarching theme through all of it was, it was absolutely terrifying,” Fehrman said.
Throughout the investigation, Borges would ask him if he was recording conversations, Fehrman said. Borges also began threatening him — saying things like “We are going to blow up your house” and “If things get out it would be bad for us, but worse for you.”
“It’s intimidating to be told things like that by people who are in positions of power and who are connected with people in even higher positions of power,” Fehrman said. “It was scary — it was jarring.”
Fehrman said the FBI was protecting him, each morning asking him what he was wearing, and even requesting he take different routes to work some days. In court, it was revealed that a private investigator was hired to allegedly follow him.
“I don’t know how many folks have ever experienced being followed to and from work, being watched while they’re in their office, being threatened to have their house blown up,” Fehrman said. “It’s nothing I would wish on anyone.”
But he said when he heard the guilty verdict read for both Borges and Householder, Fehrman knew all he went through was worth it.
“Knowing that a jury of peers saw the evidence and heard the recordings and listened and came to the same conclusion that I knew to be true, it really is relieving,” Fehrman said. “It’s vindicating on a lot of levels.”
Fehrman said knowing that Borges and Householder will be held accountable, both for breaking the trust of Ohioans and for everything they put him through is a breath of fresh air. But he said he hopes this sends a message to others who are considering any scheme of the sort.
“Politics is tough work, campaigns are a hard business, and everybody wants to win,” Fehrman said. “But winning at all costs when you have to play dirty and do things like they did is absolutely never worth it.”