Nearly 1,000 days after the House Bill 6 scandal news broke, the verdict is in.
Justice has been served with the guilty verdict in the federal racketeering trial of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder.
This was a years-long empire-building scheme in the making, designed to develop a structure to channel dark money for political purposes for decades.The good news is that they got caught.
Defense attorney Steven Bradley told the jury that Mr. Householder was engaged in “political activity,” not “criminal activity.” This verdict demonstrates that there should be a clear difference between the two.
We don’t believe that utilities funneling millions of dollars through shell corporations to drive state policy is how our state government should work. We believe it is now time to turn our attention to changing the face of democracy in Ohio. We hold up this decision as evidence that Ohioans not only deserve better but will now be expecting better from their elected officials.
Week 7 March 6-9
In closing statements Tuesday assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Singer said, “Mr. Householder did not act alone but he was at the top.” Singer argued that Householder knew that FirstEnergy’s millions came with an expectation to pass a bailout and to defend that law against a ballot initiative to block it in 2019.
The prosecution was able to build a strong case without the jury being informed of FirstEnergy's deferred-prosecution agreement. The jurors were not aware that FirstEnergy admitted it was the primary banker of the House Bill 6 scheme, and that it paid a record $230 million fine.
Week 6 February 17- March 3
Former House Speaker Larry Householder takes the stand in his corruption trial, disputing claims that he accepted utility money in exchange for favorable legislation.
The final witness list for the defense: 1. Householder 2. Columbus lobbyist Bob Klaffky 3. Geoff Verhoff - an official with Akin Gump - a Washington, D.C. public-affairs firm that helped form the strategy behind the passage of House Bill 6 filed a motion to invoke fifth amendment rights and quash a subpoena to testify.
The prosecution rested its case Monday after presenting jurors with mountains of evidence including reams of financial documents, emails, texts, wire-tap audio and firsthand accounts. Their final witness was whistleblower Tyler Fehrman who said at one point Borges threatened to blow Fehrman's house up if then-Columbus Dispatch reporter Randy Ludlow learned about the conversation.
Householder's attorneys began their case with Rep. Bill Seitz, who testified that he happily backed House Bill 6.
Week 5 February 20-24
Former House Speaker Larry Householder’s political strategist and general fixer testifies that the lawmaker benefited from FirstEnergy contributions that he accepted as loans and never repaid.
Tens of millions didn’t just go to pay for a spate of nasty, xenophobic ads to stop the repeal of House Bill 6 in 2019. Some of that money also paid people to stalk, harass and even assault signature gatherers, the head of the company that was gathering them testified on Tuesday.
Week 4 February 13-17
Larry Householder’s conduct wasn’t just politics as usual. Prosecutors show an explicit quid pro quo: Householder worked for the energy bailout expressly in exchange for the mountain of political money FirstEnergy plowed into a dark money group that he controlled. Householder’s dark money political machine amassed $61 million in utility company contributions to elect a legislature that would make him speaker and pass the bailout.
Juan Cespedes testified that it was made clear FirstEnergy Solutions' financial support was tied to support for the bailout.
Householder had a backup plan if opponents of the $1.3 billion nuclear bailout collected enough signatures to make the November 2020 ballot − despite a nasty, dark money-fueled campaign to hinder them. Householder planned to divide House Bill 6 into pieces and pass each individually, making it more difficult for opponents to challenge any one aspect.
FirstEnergy and American Electric Power funded an effort to change Ohio's constitution to allow Householder to avoid term limits and remain Ohio House speaker well into the 2030s. Only an FBI investigation and a once-in-a-century pandemic derailed the plan.
Prosecutors played recordings of late Ohio right-wing lobbyist Neil Clark that showed how dark money contributions make their way to public officials.
Partners for Progress was funded exclusively by FirstEnergy run by then-lobbyist Dan McCarthy. It received $5 million from FirstEnergy within a few weeks of when McCarthy founded it. In early 2019, DeWine appointed the FirstEnergy lobbyist operating Partners for Progress, Dan McCarthy, to be his legislative affairs director, meaning McCarthy was in charge of representing DeWine’s interests before the General Assembly. McCarthy has not been charged, but he did resign from the DeWine administration.
Week 3 February 6-10
The most memorable and wildly misleading political ad campaigns in recent Ohio history played a key role in an FBI agent’s testimony during ex-Ohio House speaker Larry Householder’s ongoing corruption trial on Wednesday.
When Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts was trying to put a referendum on the November ballot to repeal House Bill 6, FirstEnergy paid private investigators to follow petitioners.
FirstEnergy CEO had a direct line to Governor Mike DeWine: "DeWine is on board,” Chuck Jones, the then-CEO of FirstEnergy, said in a text message with other company executives. “Talked to him weds [Wednesday].”
A FirstEnergy executive worked to keep the name of a senior aide to Gov. Mike DeWine off of a $10 million transaction associated with a 2019 political fight over the state’s power plant bailout law.
FBI Agent Blane Wetzel continued his testimony in court Monday providing further evidence: Matt Borges paid $15,000 for inside information about the effort to repeal House Bill 6; Secretary of State Frank LaRose wanted to meet with leaders of Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions; and that Attorney General Dave Yost became angered over the opposition's heavy-handed tactics toward petition circulators.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost thought House Bill 6 was a bad law, and would have publicly opposed it had it not been for FirstEnergy’s support for his 2018 campaign and the involvement of former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges. Yost received $24,000 from FirstEnergy and Mr. Borges. It’s now clear that this money was used to ensure the AG’s support despite his duty to protect Ohio voters and consumers.
The FBI's Blane Wetzel detailed how Householder and his allies set the stage so that he had the support to become speaker & for bailing out the failing nuclear plants. FirstEnergy funded these operations using dark money groups as pass throughs. Dark money groups like Generation Now provided fundraising, social media help, polling, and opponent attack ads for "Team Householder" candidates. It took two days of testimony to reveal who sent how much where before the bill had even been introduced!
The FBI never had a wiretap on the phones of Larry Householder or Matt Borges. Their target was Columbus lobbyist Neil Clark. The FBI stumbled onto biggest public corruption case in Ohio history by accident-after eavesdropping on Clark and Householder's calls.
Unfortunately, Householder's being removed from office did not stop our current state legislature from pushing laws that keep Ohio going in the wrong direction. House Bill 507, passed in December, classified natural gas as "green energy" despite it being a fossil fuel that contributes to water pollution and climate change.
The day that House Bill 6 was passed, FirstEnergy lobbyists sent this image to FirstEnergy executives:
After a complaint from the defense, Judge Black ruled that the jurors will not see the image for now.
And if that wasn't bad enough, FirstEnergy lobbyists celebrated that they had secured a state-funded private airplane to bring back legislators to ensure the passage of HB6. Governor Mike DeWine’s then-chief of staff, Laurel Dawson — married to a FirstEnergy consultant — approved the expense.
Text messages revealed that Attorney General Dave Yost didn’t publicly oppose the state’s 2019 power plant bailout law because of political support he had received from FirstEnergy. Yost told former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges that he would be out front opposing House Bill 6 if it weren't for FirstEnergy's support and Borges' involvement in the effort to pass the bill. Since 2010, FirstEnergy's PAC has donated more than $29,000 to Yost's campaigns.
Week 1 January 23-27
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black canceled court proceedings for the Householder trial after one of the jurors tested positive for COVID-19. Trial is postponed until Tuesday, January 31.
FirstEnergy’s treasurer Steven Staub testifies on January 24 that the utility was “just bleeding cash” when it pursued a $1.3 billion bailout from state lawmakers that marked the start of a corruption scandal.
Opening arguments began on January 23 in the bribery trial of former House Speaker Larry Householder. Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Glatfelter intends to prove that the tens of millions of dollars that fueled the House Bill 6 scandal were criminal bribes laundered through a nonprofit with the intent to pass legislation. Larry Householder’s attorneys are attempting to recast him as an environmentalist and good civil servant.
The entire case hinges on a single charge of racketeering conspiracy. Prosecutors argue that the sweeping bribery scheme originated from Househoulder’s January 2017 trip to Washington D.C. on a FirstEnergy private jet with multiple former FirstEnergy executives. Lead prosecuting attorney Emily Glatfelter revealed how the statehouse probe into Householder got started: FBI got a wiretap on lobbyist Neil Clark related to "another scheme" in late 2018 and early 2019, and picked up conversations with Householder.
After winning a contentious battle for Ohio House speaker, Larry Householder rolled out an overhaul to Ohio energy policy that included subsidies to bail out the state's two nuclear power plants. The bill, which would become House Bill 6, also gutted the state's renewable energy standards and energy efficiency standards and subsidized two coal plants. Thanks to the scandal-ridden House Bill 6, Ohio electricity customers will pay an estimated $1.8 billion through 2030 to subsidize two coal power plants -- including the Clifty Creek Power Plant in Madison, Indiana.
Householder was arrested in July 2020 and the House voted 75-21 to expel Rep. Larry Householder on June 17, 2021.
In a deferred prosecution agreement in July 2021, FirstEnergy Corp. agreed to pay a $230 million fine and admitted to bribing public officials Larry Householder and the state’s former top utility regulator, Sam Randazzo.
We're still learning the extent of the money web that supported the tainted House Bil 6. According to newly revealed information by federal prosecutors, FirstEnergy paid 400,000 to dark money group "Hardworking Americans" for political ads targeting Householder’s 2018 primary opponent, Kevin Black. The utility later paid another $500,000 to "Hardworking Ohioans" for ads to support “Team Householder candidates.”
The Householder trial is projected to last approximately six weeks. Would you like to receive regular updates with news and opportunities to take action?
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There were many developments in the 24 months that followed the arrests of Larry Householder and four associates on bribery and racketeering charges:
- Two men pled guilty
- FirstEnergy fired top executives
- Ohio's top utility regulator Sam Randazzo resigned (after the FBI raided his condo)
- one co-defendant died by suicide
- Some of the tainted HB6 was repealed
- resolution introduced in Cleveland City Council to remove "FirstEnergy" name from the stadium
BUT...Ohioans have yet to see justice fully done.
Urge them to pass equitable, comprehensive clean energy policy that works for all Ohioans