Ohio Speaker Arrested in $60 Million Bribery Case

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder sits at the head of a legislative session in Columbus on Oct. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) — Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was arrested and arraigned Tuesday in connection with a $60 million bribery scheme related to the $1 billion bailout of two nuclear power plants.

The Republican state lawmaker was arrested alongside four others, including his adviser Jeffrey Longstreth, lobbyist Neil Clark, former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matthew Borges and Juan Cespedes of the Columbus consulting firm The Oxley Group.

News of Householder’s arrest broke early Tuesday morning when FBI agents arrived at his farm in Perry County.

A 2:30 p.m. press conference held by Southern Ohio U.S. Attorney David DeVillers shed light on the criminal charges against Householder and his co-defendants.

DeVillers called the alleged enterprise involving the Ohio speaker “likely the largest bribery and money laundering scheme ever perpetrated in the state of Ohio.”

The prosecutor detailed the creation of Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization he said was used to funnel money to an undisclosed corporation known as Company A in the indictment, which then allegedly passed funds on to Householder and the others.

A 501(c)(4) is not required to disclose its donor information, and is supposed to be created as a means to promote social welfare.

“Not a dime of the money went to any social cause,” DeVillers said.

According to prosecutors, millions of dollars were filtered to Company A through Generation Now to both pass House Bill 6, which authorized the power plant bailouts, and to defeat a later ballot initiative that sought to overturn the law.

DeVillers refused to disclose the identity of Company A, widely believed to be FirstEnergy Corporation, because no one from the company has been charged, but admitted that “everyone knows who Company A is.”

FirstEnergy’s stock price had dipped more than 14% by Tuesday afternoon after news of Householder’s arrest became public.

Householder, 61, allegedly received more than $500,000 personally, most of which he used to pay for legal fees related to an unrelated lawsuit. Some of the other defendants allegedly transferred millions to firms they controlled in addition to payments to themselves.

The Ohio House speaker and his co-defendants attended a virtual arraignment Tuesday. Householder faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of racketeering and conspiracy charges.

He was released on bond without supervision, but was ordered by a federal judge to avoid contact with any of his co-defendants and to remain in the jurisdiction of the Southern District Court of Ohio.

He must also surrender any firearms in his possession.

DeVillers thanked those who aided the FBI’s investigation but told reporters, “We are not done with this case.”

The prosecutor said the “overt” portion of the investigation has just begun, and that law enforcement officials are currently serving subpoenas and executing search warrants that were previously kept under wraps to avoid detection by Householder and the other defendants.

Householder is currently serving his second term as speaker, following a lengthy absence from politics after his first term ended in 2004 with an FBI investigation into alleged kickbacks. No charges were filed after that investigation concluded in 2006.

He returned to politics in 2016 when he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives by the voters in District 72, and used support from Democrats to ascend back to the position of House speaker last year.

Lead FBI investigator Chris Hoffman also spoke to reporters Tuesday, saying the process of “rooting out public corruption is extremely difficult.”

Hoffman called the alleged crimes “a shameful betrayal of public trust.”

“Today’s announcement,” he said, “comes with a warning, from city hall to the statehouse: all forms of public corruption are unacceptable.”

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