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Larry Householder to be arraigned from prison on state charges, as scheme's impact persists

Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder speaks to reporters outside the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse in Cincinnati after being found guilty in a $60 million bribery scheme
Nick Swartsell
Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder speaks to reporters outside the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse in Cincinnati after being found guilty in a $60 million bribery scheme

Former Republican Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder will be arraigned from federal prison on the 10 new felony counts recently brought against him by the state, as revelations mount surrounding the scandal that landed him there.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Brendan Sheehan this week agreed to allow Householder to appear at the May 13 proceeding by video stream from Elkton Federal Correctional Institution south of Youngstown, where he is serving 20 years for his role in the largest corruption case in state history. The permission follows postponement of an earlier arraignment on the state's charges where Householder was to appear in person.

A jury convicted Householder, 64, on a federal racketeering charge in June for his role orchestrating a $60 million bribery scheme funded by Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. in exchange for passage of a $1 billion bailout of two nuclear plants owned by one of its subsidiaries.

He has appealed that conviction, arguing that federal prosecutors overstepped the limits of their authority. His lawyers contend that the $60 million, while undisclosed, amounted to legal campaign contributions permitted under federal law.

“Unlike most other bribery prosecutions, Householder did not receive an envelope of cash or extravagant gifts or trips. Rather, the government presented evidence that Householder helped raised money into a 501(c)(4) organization, Generation Now," his lawyers wrote in February, contending “there is nothing criminal about that.”

It turns out the dark money payments flowing from FirstEnergy to benefit powerful Ohio politicians as it was pushing for the nuclear bailout didn't stop with those raised as part of the Householder prosecution.

Recently released records tied to the scandal have revealed that the utility gave $2.5 million to State Solutions, a 501(c)4 benefiting Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's 2018 campaign, and $1 million to a nonprofit called Freedom Frontier that backed Lt. Gov. Jon Husted gubernatorial bid that same year. The USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau and The Plain Dealer/cleveland.com, respectively, first reported the sums. DeWine has said he didn't know of the contributions and that his positions are not impacted by political donations. Husted's spokesperson has said he was not affiliated with the dark money group.

The scandal's tentacles for the first time touched DeWine and Husted in November, when both received subpoenas as part of a civil lawsuit brought by impacted FirstEnergy investors. Neither has been accused of wrongdoing.

Householder's federal appeal also raises a host of other issues unrelated to dark money, including that the federal government never charged — nor even brought as witnesses — the fired FirstEnergy executives accused of making the bribes. Prosecutors did, however, secure a sweeping $230 million nonprosecution agreement with the energy giant admitting to the crimes.

The state's case charges two former FirstEnergy executives — ex-CEO Chuck Jones and Senior Vice President Michael Dowling — on a combined 22 counts, including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, bribery, telecommunications fraud and money laundering. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Another man charged alongside Jones and Dowling, former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo, had pleaded not guilty in both federal and state courts before dying by suicide at age 74 earlier this month.

The state indictment on which Householder will be arraigned in May alleges that he misused campaign funds to pay for his criminal defense in his federal case and failed to disclose fiduciary relationships, creditors and gifts on required ethics filings, including in relation to the bailout bill, known as House Bill 6. Specifically, Householder faces one count of theft in office, two counts of aggravated theft, one count of telecommunications fraud, one count of money laundering, and five counts of tampering with records.

Householder was one of five people arrested in July 2020 and charged in the scheme. All were accused of using the $60 million in secretly funded FirstEnergy cash to get Householder’s chosen Republican candidates elected to the House in 2018 and then to help him get elected speaker in January 2019. The money was then used to win passage of the tainted energy bill and to conduct a dirty-tricks campaign to prevent a repeal referendum from reaching the ballot.

Lobbyist and former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges was convicted alongside Householder last summer and sentenced to five years. He also has appealed.

Lobbyist Juan Cespedes and Jeffrey Longstreth, a top Householder political strategist, pleaded guilty in October 2020 and cooperated with the the government in its prosecution. The third person arrested, longtime Ohio Statehouse lobbyist Neil Clark, had pleaded not guilty before also dying by suicide in March 2021.

The dark money group used to funnel FirstEnergy money, Generation Now, also pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge in February 2021.

Julie Carr Smyth - Associated Press