House GOP lawmakers plan to meet Tuesday to discuss whether there is a consensus to remove House Speaker Larry Householder from his position.
The meeting is expected to be held in private, a location was not disclosed.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office confirmed he had been invited to attend a meeting with some legislators but that the discussions would be privileged.
Among the concerns House GOP lawmakers have include what are the logistics of removing the speaker and what is happening to the campaign cash for the House GOP caucus, which was controlled by Householder.
Householder and four others were arrested last week and charged with racketeering – accused by federal prosecutors of taking part in a $60 million bribery scheme that benefitted the men personally and would ensure that House Bill 6 passed the legislature and would become law.
The bill provided a billion-dollar bailout to First Energy and its affiliates – including the operator of the nuclear plants, First Energy Solutions, which split from First Energy and emerged from bankruptcy as Energy Harbor.
According to the FBI’s criminal complaint, the two nuclear power plants in northern Ohio remain in operation thanks to House Bill 6, which provided that billion-dollar bailout.
But the FBI says that bill was bought and paid for through a $60 million bribery scheme that lined the pockets of lobbyists and Ohio’s most powerful lawmaker – House Speaker Larry Householder
Householder and four others – Neil Clark, Juan Cespedes, Matt Borges and Jeff Longstreth – were arrested and charged with racketeering last week – accused by federal prosecutors of helping to funnel $60 million from an energy company into a 501(c)4 dark money group named Generation Now.
According to the 82-page criminal complaint, the FBI alleges that the $60 million in payments were “akin to bags of cash.”
The affidavit alleges that the five men used the monies not only to their own personal benefit but that the funds were used to ensure Householder became House Speaker; that lawmakers backed by Householder were elected and that House Bill 6 would pass the state legislature and become law.
All five men are expected in court next month.
An attorney for Householder told 10 Investigates Monday he had not been authorized at this time to provide a comment.
Householder told reporters last week he did not intend to resign.
Lobbyist Neil Clark declined to answer 10 Investigates' questions as he left the federal courthouse after his arrest last week.
But in secret FBI recordings -- Clark is quoted as saying "that "Gen Now" is the speaker's (C)4. That Householder created himself."
Clark is later recorded saying "That we call (Company A) the bank because they can do… they can fund these things for 20 years if they want to… they've got too much money, too much power."
Though not named in court records - Company A – refers to First Energy and its affiliates -- including First Energy Solutions.
During an investor call on Friday, FirstEnergy's CEO Chuck Jones tried to distance himself and the parent company from the scandal.
"I believe that FirstEnergy acted properly in this manner and we intend to cooperate fully with the investigation,” Jones said.
Jones says FirstEnergy, its political action committee and its services company all received subpoenas and that it plans to cooperate with the investigators.
He reminded investors that FirstEnergy split with First Energy Solutions – in late 2016 -- and that two operate separately.
But he did acknowledge that $15 million of that $60 million referenced by the FBI in the criminal complaint came from his company in support of HB 6.
Jones appeared to grow frustrated after several investors continued to ask questions about the criminal case.
“We’ve got 15 minutes left – I hope we can talk about what a great second quarter we had,” Jones said on the call.
The criminal complaint details payment after payment to Generation Now and other pass-through organizations beginning in March of 2017 and through March of this year.
During a news conference last week, U.S. Attorney Dave Devillers, told reporters: “Make no mistake, these are allegations of bribery pure and simple. This was a quid pro quo. This was pay to play.”
In a review of campaign finance records, 10 Investigates also found money from First Energy and First Energy Solutions wasn't just pouring into Generation Now.
Records show contributions from First Energy Solutions, its political action committee and its employees also flowed into Householder's campaign account after HB 6 passed.
We also found a $13,200 donation from Matt Borges – the former state GOP party chairman – and one of the men prosecutors says involved in the scheme.
Borges also declined to comment as he left federal court last week.
Borges' alleged role in the scandal, according to the criminal complaint, involved giving a man $15,000 bribe to provide intelligence on the failed ballot referendum aimed at overturning HB 6.
That man went to the FBI and alleges Borges threatened to "blow up" his house if he spoke of their conversation.
Lawmakers have since introduced a bill to repeal HB 6 and are considering replacing Householder as speaker.
Rep. Shane Wilkin was one of two sponsors of HB 6.
The feds allege that Householder handpicked lawmakers to sponsor the legislation.
Rep. Wilkin put out a statement Friday saying he is "disappointed and angry" at Householder and called on him to resign.
But in a phone interview, Wilkin told 10 Investigates that he still supports the language and purpose of HB 6, which he saw as a benefit to ratepayers.
“What happened behind the scenes that I didn't know, I didn't know any of that was going on. If in fact – it is true – it's a shame that the bill is getting tainted by it,” Wilkin told 10 Investigates.
HB 6’s other sponsor, Rep. Jamie Callender, put out a statement Monday saying that Householder “crossed the line” and should resign immediately.
Ian Vandewalker is with the Brennan Center for Justice – a nonpartisan law and policy institute – has studied dark money and its influence in politics.
He says in this case, using multiple pass-throughs beyond Generation Now mirrors tactics that are often associated with dark money cover-ups.
“The unlimited amounts of money and all they have to do is get this bill through are really sort of shocking level of corruption and bribery,” he said. “These networks can get very complicated but ultimately the goal is always just to hide where the money is coming from…
“We think that elected officials work for us and if we don't like what they are doing we can vote them out, but this type of secrecy means it can be very hard to know what they are doing.”