Former House speaker asks judge to drop conspiracy charge


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The former Republican house speaker accused of helping orchestrate a $60 million bribery scheme has asked that the criminal case against him be dropped, arguing prosecutors haven’t presented evidence that backs up the indictment.

Federal investigators charged Larry Householder eighteen months ago with conspiring to oversee the funneling of energy company money into a legislative effort to bail out two nuclear power plants. Householder has pleaded not guilty.

In a court filing late Tuesday, his attorneys argue the government hasn’t provided the “essential facts” needed for an indictment.

The “federal government here oversteps its role in seeking to impose its standards of good government on Ohio,” the filing said. “Even worse, the government does so by alleging that campaign contributions, which are protected by the First Amendment, formed an illegal bribe.”

Householder and four others were accused of using money secretly funded by Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. to win passage of the bailout legislation and engaging in a dirty tricks campaign to prevent a voter referendum on the bill.

Householder political strategist Jeffrey Longstreth and lobbyist Juan Cespedes have previously pleaded guilty. Former GOP state party chair Matt Borges has also pleaded not guilty, as did lobbyist Neil Clark, who later died by suicide. Generation Now, a dark money group also accused in the scheme, pleaded guilty in February 2021.

Householders’ lawyers argue there’s no evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement. At best, the allegations “show that Householder took political positions that benefited FirstEnergy, which contributed campaign contributions to Householder and Generation Now,” the attorneys said.

In July, FirstEnergy and the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the company would pay a $230 million fine as part of a deferred prosecution agreement. If the company abides by all the provisions in the agreement, a charge of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud will be dismissed in three years, under the deal.

A message was left with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is expected to oppose the request to drop charges against Householder.

The House stripped Householder of his speakership in July 2020. But he kept his seat until June, when he became only the second state lawmaker in Ohio history to be expelled by fellow lawmakers.

Householder, a Perry County Republican, has long insisted he never took or solicited a bribe.

“Just think of the precedent this will set: Allegations are enough to remove anyone from office,” Householder testified to fellow lawmakers before they expelled him. “That’s absurd.”

Until the charges were announced, Householder was widely believed to have been positioning himself to run for governor after two stretches as a state lawmaker.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press

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