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Federal prosecutors grill ex-Ohio speaker on cross-examination in bribery trial

Larry Householder was challenged to explain contradictions between his testimony and other evidence related to a bribery scheme during contentious questioning that lasted nearly five hours.

CINCINNATI (CN) — In the final act of a six-week drama, Larry Householder's self-projected image as Ohio's political underdog from Appalachia was put to the test when federal prosecutors hammered him on his relationship with FirstEnergy and the passage of bailout legislation during a lengthy cross-examination.

Householder's attorneys finished their direct examination of the Republican former speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives on Thursday morning with a series of questions about attempts by opponents of House Bill 6 – the $1.3 billion bailout of nuclear power plants – to get a referendum on the statewide ballot, as well as loans made to Householder by Jeff Longstreth.

Longstreth, an adviser and co-defendant who pleaded guilty, loaned Householder money to make repairs to a home in Naples, Florida, as well as for legal fees related to a lawsuit filed against the coal company owned by Householder and that suit's eventual settlement.

Householder told his attorneys he considered Longstreth a "friend" and intended to repay all of the money, although Longstreth previously testified the defendant never signed any loan documents.

Testimony also touched another co-defendant, former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges, and the former speaker used the opportunity to solidify his image as an outsider from rural Ohio.

"Matt is more of a country club Republican," he said, "and I'm more of a country Republican."

Householder concluded his direct testimony with further reinforcement of his persona.

"I told my sons, there are three commitments you have to make in life," he said. "The first commitment is to God, the second commitment is to your family, and the third commitment is to your community."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Glatfelter conducted the government's cross-examination of Householder and wasted no time attacking his credibility.

Glatfelter showed the jury pictures taken during Householder's January 2017 trip to Washington, D.C., for Donald's Trump inauguration with time stamps that disputed his earlier timeline of events.

Specifically, pictures taken in the back of a limousine that included FirstEnergy Vice President Mike Dowling and other individuals contradicted Householder's claim he only saw Dowling briefly on the trip.

During his testimony, Householder seemingly questioned the pictures' authenticity and told the jury multiple times a certain person in the pictures was not in Washington on the night they were taken and did not arrive until the next day.

The use of FirstEnergy's private jet was brought up by Glatfelter, who pointed out the payment Householder made for the plane materialized only in the immediate aftermath of a Dayton Daily News article that criticized his use of the jet.

Householder bristled at the implication and said his team "constantly contacted FirstEnergy" about payment for the jet "way before that article," but the company didn't provide a bill until roughly the same time the article was published.

The former lawmaker has continually projected himself as "frugal" and "cheap" throughout his testimony, an image eviscerated by Glatfelter as she detailed his use of the FirstEnergy jet and trips to multiple World Series games in 2016 that included jaunts between corporate boxes.

The prosecution zeroed in on Householder's control of Generation Now, the 501(c)(4) nonprofit, "dark money" organization used to solicit non-reported donations, one the former speaker said he wanted to use to educate Ohioans about "important issues."

"Generation Now is your 501(c)(4), right?" Glatfelter asked. "It's for your benefit. Forget about the names that are on the documents."

Glatfelter went through several exhibits that indicated Householder attended Generation Now staff meetings, worked on the organization's budget and received draft legislation from FirstEnergy before HB 6 was drawn up by legislators.

Householder denied having ever been given the energy company's ideas regarding the bailout legislation, at which point Glatfelter produced a draft recovered by investigators from his own office.

"I don't remember this," he told the jury.

In perhaps the most damning portion of Glatfelter's cross-examination, the prosecutor asked Householder about his reasons for returning to government service and, specifically, putting an end to divisiveness in the statehouse and among Republicans in particular.

Householder agreed it was a motivating factor, and Glatfelter cued up a recorded conversation between Householder and advisor Neil Clark discussing Republican representatives Scott Lipps and Dave Greenspan.

"We like war," Householder said on the call. "Do you think we should make a movement on Lipps and Greenspan and just say, 'if you're going to fuck with me, I'm going to fuck with your kids?'"

Remarkably, Householder refused to concede any retaliatory intent when Glatfelter followed up with a question about consequences for individuals who contributed to his opponent's campaign for speaker.

"I can't think of any consequences," he said.

Glatfelter continued her unrelenting assault on the former speaker's character and shifted the cross-examination to his financial disclosure statements. She compared the truthfulness portion of the disclosure form – required to be filed annually by all elected officials – to the oath taken by Householder before he testified, but the defendant admitted he "never looked at them."

The prosecutor pointed out more than $20,000 in credit card debt and a $1.89 million judgment against his company, Householder Ltd., were not listed on his 2016 disclosure form.

"Those were all business-related debts," Householder said.

He refused to take responsibility for the filings made in the years following his return to the Ohio House in 2016 and told the jury his attorney handled the job.

Glatfelter pressed further, mentioning the World Series tickets and Washington trip, neither of which were included on the disclosure forms, but Householder refused to budge and reiterated his attorney handled everything.

"So it's up to other people to tell you what to put on your disclosure form that you didn't look at," Glatfelter said.

After a brief redirect by Householder's attorneys, the government recalled FBI special agent Blaine Wetzel as a rebuttal witness to verify information about several photos introduced during Householder's testimony.

Through the use of metadata from Longstreth's phone, Wetzel pinpointed the location of a photo of Householder to 101 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C., the address of the Charlie Palmer Steakhouse, site of a dinner meeting between FirstEnergy executives and members of Team Householder.

Householder has repeatedly denied he attended any dinners with FirstEnergy executives during the trip.

Court was adjourned for the day shortly after a spectator in the gallery suffered a seizure and an ambulance was called to provide medical treatment.

The introduction of evidence in the case closed at the end of the day and Senior U.S. District Judge Timothy Black scheduled closing arguments for next Tuesday.

Categories:Criminal, Government, Politics, Regional, Trials

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