Arguably the largest corruption scandal in Ohio history is unfolding in the federal court system and former Ohio House Speaker, Republican Larry Housholder, is taking center stage. The Householder racketeering trial is wrapping up its fifth week and throughout the last month there has been mention of many of Ohio’s big names in and around the Ohio Republican Party.
Cleveland Channel 5 News describes House Bill 6, the bill that started it all, as “an energy bill that would provide a bailout to FirstEnergy and other failing or struggling utility companies.” FirstEnergy–an Ohio-based energy company and the namesake of the Cleveland Browns’ stadium–allegedly provided Householder with a roughly $60 million “bribe” in exchange for an over $1.3 billion bailout through H.B. 6.
FirstEnergy has already admitted to using hefty amounts of money to expel influence over Householder, who was a strong advocate for H.B. 6. Allegedly FirstEnergy pressured, duped and delayed many anti-H.B. 6 Ohioans through fake interest groups and political action committees (PACs). Because of this campaign to silence public opinion , the petition to hold a referendum to overturn H.B. 6 did not receive enough signatures. During this fight, FirstEnergy used roughly $15 million to create a puppet organization called Generation Now that deeply combatted any dissenting opinion on the passage of H.B. 6.
The Trial to Date
Householder is not the only defendant in this public corruption case. Former Ohio GOP Chairman and Lobbyist Matt Borges and FirstEnergy Lobbyist Juan Cespedes, too, are on the defense side. The latter said on record, “Who would ever assume a bankrupt company is willing to spend $15M. What a joke? Lol.” Also on the defense side are Republican political strategist Jeff Longstreth and the organization Generation Now. The last defendant in this case is Householder’s former advisor, Neil Clark, who passed away via suicide in 2021.
Householder and Borges both entered into a non-guilty plea; Cespedes and Longstreth entered into a guilty plea.
In the past four weeks of trial, several major players in Ohio’s state politics were either mentioned or testified, including Gov. Mike DeWine’s nominee to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Sam Randazzo, DeWine himself, Rep. Nino Vitale R-Urbana, and Former Republican senior advisor on energy issues Pat Tully.
Allegedly FirstEnergy, Householder and Generation Now utilized money to prop up supporters of H.B. 6 and squash dissent. In the coming days and weeks, the defense prepares for their turn to sow some doubt among the jury and argue their case.
Week Five Update (Week of Feb 19-25)
Last week, the prosecution brought forth several witnesses to provide testimony, including a continuing testimony from Longstreth—whose testimony can be “damning,” according to Case Western Reserve Professor Michael Benza and Channel 5 News. Through his testimony, the prosecution was able to bring up a claim that Householder utilized FirstEnergy dark money to repair a house owned by Householder in Florida. Witnesses told the jury that Householder would take “loans,” but would never fill out nor sign any paperwork. These loans would amount to $500k, according to Longstreth.
The prosecution utilized FBI recordings between Clark and the Bureau.
“In Clark’s case, his words were captured on secretly made recordings with undercover FBI agents and played in open court,” reported Laura Bischoff and Jessie Balmert for the Columbus Dispatch. “Clark, a long-time lobbyist who worked closely with Householder, the former Ohio House speaker, died by suicide after his arrest − a fact withheld from the jury.”
This coming week, the prosecution plans to wrap up its argument by trying to prove to the jury that Householder experienced a period of personal enrichment, funded by FirstEnergy, in exchange for pushing H.B. 6 through the legislature.
This is a developing story.