PERRY COUNTY, Ohio — One of Ohio's top political leaders is the subject of a federal bribery investigation.
On Tuesday afternoon, David DeVillers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio and Chris Hoffman, FBI, Special Agent in Charge, laid out the case against Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four other people in what DeVillers called "probably the largest bribery case ever in Ohio."
The charging documents allege the defendants received more than $60 million paid to 501(c)(4) Generation Now, a political operative group, to pass and uphold a billion-dollar nuclear plant bailout.
"Make no mistake, Generation Now is Larry Householder," said DeVillers during the briefing.
The 80-page complaint says the defendants corruptly used the $60 million to promote Householder, pass House Bill 6, and defeat a ballot initiative to overturn the legislation. House Bill 6 bailed out Ohio's two fledgling nuclear power plants (including the Perry Nuclear Generating Station in Lake County.)
Householder pushed hard for the passage of the roughly $1 billion financial rescue and offered praise when it narrowly cleared the General Assembly last July over the objections of even several of his Republican colleagues. The legislation added a new fee to every electricity bill in the state and directed over $150 million a year through 2026 to the plants near Cleveland and Toledo.
The investigation found that the money was paid from March 2017 to March 2020 to Householder and his associates from what DeVillers referred to as "Company A," identified as a nuclear energy company and subsidiaries in the complaint.
Householder received quarterly $250,000 payments from the related-energy companies into the bank account of Generation Now. The defendants allegedly spent millions of the company’s dollars to support Householder’s political bid to become Speaker, to support House candidates they believed would back Householder, and for their own personal benefit.
The other four defendants along with Householder and Generation Now are:
- Jeffrey Longstreth, advisor to Householder
- Neil Clark, longtime Statehouse lobbyist
- Matthew Borges, former Ohio Republican Party Chairman
- Juan Cespedes, co-founder of The Oxley Group, a Columbus-based consulting firm
Borges was ousted three years ago following the election of President Donald Trump and has since organized a Super PAC in support of current Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
In March 2017, Householder began receiving quarterly $250,000 payments from the related-energy companies into the bank account of Generation Now. The defendants allegedly spent millions of the company’s dollars to support Householder’s political bid to become Speaker, to support House candidates they believed would back Householder, and for their own personal benefit. When asked how much money was in Generation Now, Clark said, “it’s unlimited.”
The racketeering conspiracy as charged in this case is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
You can watch the entire briefing from Tuesday in the player below:
A crowd of people gathered outside of the federal courthouse in Columbus as Householder was leaving on Tuesday afternoon. One protester was arrested by police.
The plants in both Perry and Oak Harbor were at one time operated by FirstEnergy's subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions, until the latter was spun off as its own independent company known as Energy Harbor following bankruptcy proceedings. Following the news of the investigation, FirstEnergy's stock market share price was down more than 11% as of 1 p.m., while Energy Harbor slid more than 20%.
FirstEnergy Corp. donated heavily to Householder’s campaigns and his backers in the Ohio House. The utility’s political action committee contributed $25,000 to Householder’s campaign in 2018, according to an analysis by Common Cause Ohio, a government watchdog.
In a statement to 3News, FirstEnergy indicated that it had received subpoenas in connection with the investigation surrounding Ohio House Bill 6. "We are reviewing the details of the investigation and we intend to fully cooperate," the company wrote.
Householder was elected in 2019 to serve in his second term as Ohio's House speaker, a position he first held from 2001-04. Near the end of that initial term, he and others were also under investigation for alleged money laundering, but no charges were ever filed and he left the House due to term limits before being reelected in 2016.
Householder is the second Statehouse leader to face a criminal probe in the last two years: Back in 2018, then-Speaker Cliff Rosenberger resigned amid similar allegations of corruption that prompted an FBI search of his own home. Charges have yet to be filed against him, and Ryan Smith took his place as permanent speaker before Householder regained his old job the following January.
In response to the remarks from the U.S. Attorney, Gov. Mike DeWine postponed his regular 2 p.m. coronavirus press briefing until Wednesday. Following the DOJ briefing, DeWine issued the following statement calling for the resignation of Householder:
“I am deeply concerned about the allegations of wrongdoing in the criminal complaint issued today by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Every American has the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Because of the nature of these charges, it will be impossible for Speaker Householder to effectively lead the Ohio House of Representatives; therefore, I am calling on Speaker Householder to resign immediately.
"This is a sad day for Ohio."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.