Larry Householder, Matt Borges found guilty in racketeering trial
Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges have been found guilty by a jury of corruption following a seven-week trial.
The pair were accused in a $61 million pay-to-play scheme to legislation that benefited FirstEnergy. It was referred to as the biggest corruption case in the state's history.
The jury deliberated for 9 1/2 hours over the course of two days before returning with the guilty verdict.
A prosecutor argued that nearly $60 million went through a dark money group called Generation Now, which was controlled by Householder and allowed for "secret, undisclosed and unreported" money from FirstEnergy.
The utility company expected a $1 billion bailout of two nuclear power plants that were owned by a FirstEnergy subsidiary in the form of passage of legislation called House Bill 6 in return. The prosecutor also claimed Householder personally received about $500,000 in the deal that he used to pay off credit card debt and make repairs to a home in Florida.
The prosecutor argued that Householder did not act by himself and that Borges entered into the deal late. However Borges did so with full knowledge about the details, the prosecution said.
The prosecutor told jurors they had spoken to Householder strategist Jeff Longstreth and FirstEnergy Solutions lobbyist Juan Cespedes, both of whom have pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme. The jury also heard recordings featuring accused lobbyist Neil Clark, who died by suicide in March 2021.
Longstreth testified last month the scheme was hatched at a dinner during the inauguration weekend for former President Donald Trump in 2017 at a Washington D.C. restaurant.
Householder claimed he was not present at the dinner, but the prosecution highlighted emails and pictures that show Householder was in attendance.
The prosecutor also said Clark's comments proved that Householder led the conspiracy and the path to Householder was donations to "the speaker's (501) C4" Generation Now, though Householder has said he didn't control the account.
According to the prosecutor, Householder's deletion of texts, emails and contacts was evidence of concealment, "and it shows corrupt intent."
After the verdict was announced, Householder defended House Bill 6 as "good legislation." Householder said he respects the jury's decision, but does not agree with it and plans to appeal the verdict.
Lawyers for Householder called his activities "hardball politics."
In order to avoid prosecution, FirstEnergy admitted using an organization of dark money groups to fund the operation, including bribing Sam Randazzo, Ohio's top utility regulator. Randazzo stepped down as chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio after FBI officials searched his home. Randazzo has not been charged and denies breaking any laws.
Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) released the following statement after the guilty verdict was announced:
“Justice was served today, and it now closes this chapter on Ohio’s largest corruption scandal in history. However, the issue of unlimited dark money and pay-to-play bribes being funneled through our political systems undoubtedly remains. We owe it to all Ohioans to rip these roots out permanently so taxpayers are never on the hook like this again, and so the government can regain the trust of the people. In our continued fight against corruption, House Democrats will reintroduce the Ohio Anti-Corruption Act. Now is the time to fix this broken system, close the loopholes, and cut off special interest groups’ reach into our democratic process.”
U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker issued the below statement:
"As presented by the trial team, Larry Householder illegally sold the statehouse, and thus he ultimately betrayed the great people of Ohio he was elected to serve. Matt Borgs was a willing co-conspirator, who paid bribe money for insider information to assist Householder. Through its verdict today, the jury reaffirmed that the illegal acts committed by both men will not be tolerated and that they should be held accountable."
Details have not been released on formal sentencing for Householder and Borges, who each face prison sentences of up to 20 years.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.