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Former House speaker, ex-Ohio Republican Party chair convicted in federal racketeering trial

Republican former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder talks to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Cincinnati after his conviction on a racketeering charge. Behind him are his attorneys Robert Glickman (left) and Steven Bradley.
Nick Swartsell
Republican former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder talks to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Cincinnati after his conviction on a racketeering charge. Behind him are his attorneys Robert Glickman (left) and Steven Bradley.

Republican former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder and ex-Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges have been found guilty in a federal court in Cincinnati.

The two were on trial on a charge of racketeering. They were accused in a $61 million bribery scheme to pass the nuclear power plant bailout law House Bill 6 for FirstEnergy in 2019 with the help of the dark money group Generation Now, and attempting to stop a referendum to repeal that bailout.

It was described as "the largest bribery, money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio" by former US Attorney David Devillers, who filed the charges against Householder and Borges in July 2020.

Devillers said in an interview after the verdict that he's "thrilled" and "I congratulate the trial team. It sends a clear message that rule of law prevails. And the rules aren't written by corporations or politicians or lobbyists. They're written by the people of this country and the state."

Jurors deliberated for around nine and a half hours, and asked no questions.

Householder, Borges reacted to verdict

Householder spoke to reporters for a few minutes after the verdict, saying he'll appeal. For now, he said he'll "go back to the farm. About time to start planting vegetables and get my fishing pole ready and go fishing with my kids."

When asked what his plans were if he succeeds in that appeal, Householder said, "I don't know about that. I have no idea. It's uh, this is all - I was surprised by the verdict, so I haven't thought that far ahead....because I'm not guilty."

Householder has done two stints as speaker. His first, from 2001 to 2004, ended because he was term-limited in the House. In 2004 Householder and some of his top advisers were under FBI scrutiny for bribery, tax and mail fraud, and money laundering, for allegedly overpaying vendors and getting kickbacks from them and trading campaign contributions for legislation. But the inquiry was closed in 2006 without any charges.

Borges also spoke to reporters outside the courthouse, saying he too will appeal. He said he respects the process and the jury, but he disagrees with the verdict.

"I did not believe that anything proved that I committed, that I had engaged in a racketeering conspiracy, which is why I fought this from the beginning," Borges said.

Others charged in the case pleaded guilty months ago.

Juan Cespedes, who had been a lobbyist for FirstEnergy Solutions, the subsidiary that owned the plants, and Householder's political strategist Jeff Longstreth pleaded guilty in October 2020, just a few months after the arrest of Householder and Borges. They both testified for the prosecution during the trial.

Generation Now admitted guilt in February 2021. FirstEnergy entered a deferred plea agreement along with a $230 million fine in July 2021.

Trial took weeks, though jury deliberations took hours

The trial started in January and went on for more than six weeks, with a few delays at first because of positive COVID tests among jurors. Prosecutors spent more than a month presenting their case, featuring thousands of documents and hundreds of hours of recordings as evidence. Prosecutors rested case on February 27, after calling an FBI special agent, some former state lawmakers who had voted against House Bill 6, and Republican strategist turned FBI informant Tyler Fehrman.

Householder's team called Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) and a couple of former lawmakers, a well-known lobbyist, and then Householder himself. His lawyer made the case that Householder engaged in "political activity, not criminal activity" in pushing House Bill 6, which he said he did because he thought it was good policy and not because of influence or bribes from FirstEnergy.

Borges did not mount a defense or call any witnesses during the trial. But in closing arguments, his attorney positioned Borges as an outsider in this plan, and said if jurors determine there isn't a bribe, there couldn't be money laundering by his client. And he added that Borges never intended to bribe FBI informant Fehrman, who had been working for the group trying to put a repeal of House Bill 6 on the ballot.

Householder and Borges face a maximum of 20 years in prison.

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