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Householder, Borges trial focuses on documents connecting FirstEnergy to Generation Now

Larry Householder, former Ohio House speaker, walks into the Potter Stewart United States Court House in Cincinnati on Jan. 23, 2023.
Andy Chow
Statehouse News Bureau
Larry Householder, former Ohio House speaker, walks into the Potter Stewart United States Court House in Cincinnati on Jan. 23, 2023.

Dozens of documents and phone recordings were displayed and played in the trial against Republican former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former FirstEnergy lobbyist Matt Borges, who are accused of playing a role in a $61 million bribery scheme.

Blane Wetzel, FBI special agent, was on the stand for the prosecution to continue laying out the paper trail they say they discovered to connect Householder and FirstEnergy.

Wetzel detailed the money that flowed from FirstEnergy to Generation Now, a 501(c)4 dark money group allegedly controlled by Householder.

On Wednesday morning, Wetzel went over bank statements that showed how FirstEnergy sent money to Partners for Progress, another dark money group, which then passed that money on to Generation Now.

Wetzel also showed, through bank statements and email correspondents, how that money was used to fund the Republican 2018 primary campaigns of Ohio House candidates who would likely support Householder as speaker once they were elected.

Emily Glatfelter, assistant U.S. attorney, said in her opening statement that they prosecution will show a pattern of corruption through a plan that saw FirstEnergy send money to Householder so that he could rise to power and pass a nuclear power plant bailout in return.

Meetings between Householder and FirstEnergy

The prosecution went through the different times FirstEnergy sent money to Generation Now, each day at a time.

Glatfelter would then ask Wetzel to explain the different documentation the FBI obtained to connect different events, text messages, and emails to those transactions.

In one collection of text messages in August 2018, then-FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones had a conversation with then-FirstEnergy vice president Michael Dowling.

Jones asked Dowling on August 4, 2018 if Householder wanted more money to which Dowling said, "he'll want hard money first and then C4 money for sure."

On August 6, 2018, Householder had a meeting with Jones and on August 16, 2018 Generation Now was wired $500,000.

In a text message conversation on August 24, 2018, Jones wrote to Householder, "We are rooting for you and your team."

Householder replied, "I am rooting for you as well. We are on the same team."

Timely money transfers

Wetzel also walked the jury through phone logs they had obtained that showed calls were placed between Householder and Dowling.

Wetzel pointed out that Householder called Dowling on March 12, 2018. Then Wetzel showed an email from Generation Now associates to Dowling on March 13, 2018 explaining how Dowling can make a contribution to the 501(c)4. Wetzel then pointed out that Partners for Progress — using FirstEnergy money — sent $300,000 to Generation Now.

Generation Now received another $100,000 from Partners for Progress less than a week before the 2018 primary.

Support for ‘Team Householder’

Wetzel also walked the jury through different documents they obtained to connect the dots between FirstEnergy and other political action committees, such as the Growth and Opportunity PAC.

The money through that PAC was used to fund political ads and polling for candidates that were likely to support Householder in his run for speaker, also referred to as Team Householder.

The prosecution brought up attack ad mailers used against Beth Ellis, a Republican candidate running for the Ohio House in district 91 against Shane Wilkin. Wilkin was considered to be on Team Householder.

The attack mailers — along with radio and TV spots, and political polling — were paid for by the Growth and Opportunity PAC.

Recorded phone calls with Neil Clark

The prosecution also played recorded phone conversations that the FBI had obtained between Neil Clark and Householder.

Clark was a high-powered lobbyist at the Ohio Statehouse who was also charged with racketeering with Householder and Borges. Clark died by suicide in March 2021.

The FBI had tapped Clark’s phone as part of a separate investigation in 2018.

During the recorded conversation, Householder would ask Clark for updates on when certain special interest groups — such as the payday lending industry — would pay money into his 501(c)4.

Householder asked Clark how much the payday lending industry would pay and when. Clark explained that they first had to decide how much would go to Gov. Mike DeWine, then they would discuss how much would go to Householder’s group.

The prosecution has largely focused on Householder and how the money from FirstEnergy helped him become House speaker.

They have not yet turned their attention to Borges, the former Ohio Republican Party chair who is accused of bribing a political consultant for inside information on a referendum campaign FirstEnergy was working against.

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