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Feds allege path to Ohio House Bill 6 was paved with bribes; watchdogs noted dark money transfer months ago

Along the way, federal prosecutors allege that Householder and others also personally benefitted from the money.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A court transcript from FirstEnergy Solution’s bankruptcy restructuring in 2018 shows the company was planning to “deactivate” its nuclear power plants in Ohio.

The plan called for shuttering one plant near Toledo by June of 2020. The others would follow and be closed by 2021.

The court filing, obtained by 10 Investigates, states the reason for deactivation includes a difficult market; flagging financial support from the parent company; and the fact that lawmakers in Ohio and Pennsylvania “failed to provide financial support to our struggling nuclear power plants.”

A year later, Ohio lawmakers passed House Bill 6 – which provided a billion-dollar bailout to the energy company – and prevented the plants from closing.

But federal prosecutors allege that path was paved with $60 million in bribes.

Now House Speaker Larry Householder and four other individuals have been charged with racketeering – accused by federal prosecutors of funneling money from FirstEnergy and its affiliates to help secure Householder’s role as House Speaker; secure votes needed to pass HB 6; fund advertising campaigns – and later – defeat a ballot referendum aimed at overturning the bill.

Along the way, federal prosecutors allege that Householder and others also personally benefitted from the money.

“It is not a complete surprise but I think what really surprised me reading the complaint was really the extent to which FirstEnergy Corp itself is implicated as being the core of that $60 million,” said Dave Anderson with the Energy and Policy Institute, an renewable energy watchdog group that has been reporting extensively on the relationship between FirstEnergy and the passage of House Bill 6.

In March, Anderson’s group – along with Eye on Ohio and Energy News Network – were among the first to report on a $1.8 million money transfer from FirstEnergy to Generation Now.

According to the criminal complaint, Generation Now was a 501(c)4 dark money group that was operated by Householder and his associates – including his longtime adviser, Jeff Longstreth, who was also charged with racketeering.

Generation Now was not only responsible for funding the advertising campaign to support HB 6, but prosecutors also allege it was used by Householder to secure his own footing as House Speaker and help elect other lawmakers who would be sympathetic to the cause.

The $1.8 million payment, which was filed in FirstEnergy Solutions bankruptcy filings, was sent to Generation Now on July 5, 2019.

House Bill 6 would pass the Ohio legislature more than two weeks later.

“That million dollar payment that we documented turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg,” Anderson said.

According to the 82-page criminal complaint, federal prosecutors allege that between March of 2017 to March of 2010 – nearly $60 million flowed from FirstEnergy (referred to only as Company A in the complaint) to Generation Now.

Householder declined to comment as he left the federal courthouse Tuesday after making his initial appearance in court.

Matt Borges and Neil Clark, two lobbyists also charged, also declined to comment.

A message was left Wednesday for Householder and for the attorney representing Jeff Longstreth.

Will Ireland, an attorney for Clark, said his client was not guilty but declined to provide a further statement for now.

Attorney Mark Collins represents Juan Cespedes, a so-called “crucial middleman” in the criminal complaint. It is alleged the Cespedes “coordinated a timely payment” of $15 million from Company A to Generation Now.

Collins said he was in the process of reviewing the 82-page complaint and looks forward to receiving additional discovery from the prosecutors. He declined to comment beyond that.

A message was also left for an attorney representing Borges.

When asked if any company executives could be criminally implicated or how did executives not know these monies were being used as alleged bribes, a spokeswoman for FirstEnergy said Wednesday that she had nothing new provided beyond the statement the company provided Tuesday which said that they had received subpoenas and planned to cooperate with authorities.