(Columbus) - A bribery investigation into Speaker of the Ohio House, Larry Householder, has just begun, according to US Attorney David DeVillers, who says the probe has so far been covert. Now that it's public, they can issue search warrants and hand out subpoenas.
Householder and four others are being investigated. The others are former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges, now a lobbyist;lobbyist Juan Cespedes, who represents Energy Harbor, the new name for FirstEnergy Solutions; lobbyist Neil Clark; and Householder political aide Jeff Longstreth.
Devillers said that FirstEnergy funneled over $60 million into a "dark money" account that would be used to pass House Bill 6, which would benefit the company by providing state backing to keep the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear power plants running. Both power plants would have been taken offline if not for the state's backing.
A 501 (c) 4 account was created into which to funnel the money. Some of that money was used to back the campaigns of candidates for the state House, who then would elect Householder the Speaker.
Money was also used to thwart a petition campaign trying to get HB6 on the ballot. Petition signature gatherers were paid money to stop getting signatures.
DeVillers says about $500,000 went into Householder's private bank account.
The nuclear plants in question were at the time operated by FirstEnergy Solutions, a for-profit spinoff of FirstEnergy. FirstEnergy Solutions filed for bankruptcy, and when it came out of bankruptcy protection, was renamed Energy Harbor.
In a statement, FirstEnergy said, "this afternoon, FirstEnergy received subpoenas in connection with the investigation surrounding HB6. We are reviewing the details of the investigation and we intend to fully cooperate."
Political leaders are calling on Householder to resign. Governor Mike DeWine said, “I am deeply concerned about the allegations of wrongdoing in the 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."
When he left the Federal Courthouse in Columbus Tuesday, Householder was asked if he'd resign, and he told a reporter, "no."
Householder and the other four were in court on Tuesday, and are free on bond. If convicted, they could each receive 20 years in prison, and fines of up to $250,000.
(Photo courtesy Ohio House of Representatives)
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