Former Ohio House speaker convicted in $60M bribery scheme

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Former state House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges were convicted Thursday in a $60 million bribery scheme that federal prosecutors have called the largest corruption case in state history.

A jury in Cincinnati found the two guilty of conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise involving bribery and money laundering, after about 9 1/2 half hours of deliberations over two days.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker said the government’s prosecution team showed that “Householder sold the Statehouse, and thus he ultimately betrayed the people of the great state of Ohio he was elected to serve.” He called Borges “a willing co-conspirator.”

“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,” Parker said.

Attorneys for Householder and Borges did not immediately respond to messages left by The Associated Press on Thursday.

Prosecutors alleged that Householder orchestrated a scheme secretly funded by Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. to secure his power in the Legislature, elect his allies — and then to pass and defend a $1 billion nuclear power plant bailout benefiting the electric utility. They alleged that Borges, then a lobbyist, sought to bribe an operative for inside information on the referendum to overturn the bailout.

Householder, 63, had been one of Ohio’s most powerful politicians — and twice elected speaker — until the Republican-controlled House ousted him after his indictment from his leadership post, and then in a bipartisan vote, and with Householder vigorously objecting, from the chamber. It was the first such expulsion in 150 years.

He took the stand in his own defense, contradicting FBI testimony and denying that he attended swanky Washington dinners where prosecutors allege he and executives of FirstEnergy hatched the elaborate scheme in 2017.

Borges, 50, did not testify at trial but has insisted that he’s innocent. Both men face up to 20 years in prison.

The verdict comes two-and-a-half years after Householder, Borges and three others were arrested in what prosecutors have called the largest corruption case in Ohio history.

Over the past seven weeks, jurors at the trial were presented with firsthand accounts of the alleged scheme, as well as reams of financial documents, emails, texts and wire-tap audio.

The prosecution called two of the people arrested — Juan Cespedes and Jeff Longstreth, who pleaded guilty — to testify about political contributions that they said are not ordinary, but bribes intended to secure passage of the bailout bill, known as House Bill 6.

Householder’s attorneys described his activities as nothing more than hardball politics.

Jurors also heard taped phone calls in which Householder and another co-defendant, the late Statehouse superlobbyist Neil Clark, plotted a nasty attack ad — and, in expletive-laced fashion, contemplated revenge against lawmakers who had crossed Householder.

Householder testified that he never retaliated against those who voted counter to his wishes or who donated to his rivals.

Under a deal to avoid prosecution, FirstEnergy admitted using a network of dark money groups to fund the scheme and even bribing the state’s top utility regulator, Sam Randazzo.

Randazzo resigned as chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio after an FBI search of his home, but he has not been charged and denies wrongdoing.

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