CINCINNATI (CN) — Longtime Ohio politician and two-time Speaker of the House Larry Householder was convicted Thursday for his role as the ringleader in a bribery scheme that used dark money contributions to pass a $1 billion bailout of two failing nuclear power plants.
"You cannot sell the public trust. It is not for sale," U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker said after the verdict. "This is a big win for all Ohioans."
Householder showed no emotion inside the courtroom when the jury announced its decision and made it clear to reporters afterwards he intends to appeal.
"This is just step one," he said on the steps of the Cincinnati federal courthouse. "Stay tuned."
In a brief statement, he remained adamant that bailout legislation known as House Bill 6 was "good legislation," despite the fact he and co-defendant Matt Borges had just been convicted in connection to a bribery scheme that got the bill through the statehouse.
Borges did not speak to reporters as he exited the courthouse.
Householder took the stand in his own defense and refuted much of the evidence presented by the prosecution, but the jury did not find the self-professed Appalachian family man credible.
Weeks of evidence from the prosecution, including testimony from Householder’s associates charged alongside him, presented a much different picture of the Perry County, Ohio, resident, one of a corrupt, demanding power broker who punished anyone who stood in his way.
The federal government’s evidence included expansive testimony from FBI Special Agent Blane Wetzel about wiretapped phone calls, text messages and the organization of Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit set up to discretely accept donations for Team Householder.
Several co-defendants who already pleaded guilty, including Jeff Longstreth and Juan Cespedes, also testified about Householder’s close relationships with FirstEnergy Corporation executives Chuck Jones and Mike Dowling.
Householder was handed a check for $400,000 from FirstEnergy during a meeting in October 2018, which got the ball rolling on the eventual passage of bailout legislation known as House Bill 6, according to the government.
The first massive payment, along with another $100,000 donation, was used to bankroll several candidates who would support Householder in his bid for speaker and back the bill that would bail out two FirstEnergy nuclear plants.
That $500,000 was the first in a long series of donations to Generation Now that would ultimately net Team Householder over $61 million in contributions, some of which benefited the members of the conspiracy personally.
Longstreth loaned Householder hundreds of thousands of dollars to make repairs to a home he owned in Naples, Florida, and to pay off legal bills associated with a lawsuit filed against a Householder-owned coal company.
A flight on FirstEnergy's private jet to Washington, D.C., for Donald Trump's inauguration, dinners at fancy steakhouses during that trip, and visits to the company's corporate box during Game 7 of the 2016 World Series were added perks used to convince Householder to prioritize energy legislation, according to the government's case.
Householder denied having a close relationship with FirstEnergy executives and refuted going to any steakhouses while in D.C., but the jury chose to believe the firsthand accounts of Longstreth and Cespedes, as well as cell phone data that put the former speaker directly outside one of the restaurants.
The trial, which began in January, had its share of controversy, including allegations of judicial bias by Householder's attorneys, one of whom stopped attending proceedings shortly after the claims were made.
Several jurors contracted Covid-19 and had to be dismissed during the early stages of the prosecution's case, while the final day of Householder's testimony was paused briefly when a spectator in the gallery had a seizure and required medical attention.
Federal investigators call the $60 million bribery scheme the largest in the state's history.
Borges was found guilty of the same charge as Householder, after he was accused of bribing an individual involved in the referendum campaign that attempted to repeal House Bill 6.
Borges paid Tyler Fehrman $15,000 after Fehrman contacted the FBI about being approached for data regarding signatures collected during the repeal effort, and was convicted despite his attorney’s claim he was neither a friend of Householder nor part of the conspiracy.
Borges did not testify in his own defense.
Neither defendant was taken into custody after the verdict was read in court, and the parties now await a presentence investigation.
Senior U.S. District Judge Timothy Black will ultimately sentence both men, who face up to 20 years in prison.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.