Ex-Ohio House speaker relieved for corruption trial’s start

CINCINNATI (AP) — Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder said Monday that he is optimistic ahead of his trial on a federal racketeering charge and looks forward to telling his side of the story.

“It should be a very good six weeks for me,” Householder told reporters in the courtroom. What will reporters hear? “Truth,” he said, adding that he is not nervous or anxious for the proceeding to begin.

The Perry County Republican, once among the most powerful politicians in Ohio, is on trial in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati alongside lobbyist Matt Borges, a former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, in what prosecutors have described as the largest corruption case in state history.

A jury must decide whether Householder, 63, and Borges, 50, are guilty of conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise involving bribery and money laundering. Both have pleaded not guilty and maintain their innocence. Each faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Householder said he anticipates “redemption.” He said he has been frustrated at being unable to tell his story in the 2 1/2 years since he was arrested, saying he has spent the time working on his farm, walking in the woods and playing with his 4-year-old granddaughter.

“For a guy like me, who likes to talk? It’s been frustrating,” he said.

An indictment alleges Householder, Borges, three other people and a dark money group called Generation Now orchestrated an elaborate scheme, secretly funded by FirstEnergy, to secure Householder’s power, elect his allies, pass legislation containing a $1 billion bailout for two aging nuclear power plants, and then vex a ballot effort to overturn the bill with a dirty tricks campaign. The arrests happened in July 2020.

Under a deal to avoid prosecution, Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. admitted to using dark money groups to fund the scheme and to bribing the state’s top utility regulator. Then-Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chair Sam Randazzo resigned after an FBI search of his home. He has not been charged and denies wrongdoing.

Two Householder associates and a related nonprofit have pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme described by prosecutors and await sentencing. A third defendant who pleaded not guilty died by suicide.

Householder said he is confident his team will prove the allegations against him false.

Campaign finance experts view the case as an opportunity for the federal government to clarify the line between legal and illegal handling of the untraceable “dark” money that has flooded politics in recent years — some $1 billion since the landmark Citizens United v. FEC decision of 2010, according to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan campaign finance research organization.

Householder’s attorneys have sought to argue that the scheme described by prosecutors was nothing more than business as usual, a strategy for advancing his leadership aspirations that has been employed routinely by politicians of both parties.

Prosecutors plan to use recorded phone calls, text messages, emails, witness testimony and documentary evidence to prove that Householder entered into what one co-conspirator described as an “unholy alliance” with FirstEnergy that amounted to an illegal racketeering scheme, and that Borges played a key role in carrying it out.

The legislation at the heart of the scandal — the Ohio Clean Air Program bill — included a $1 billion bailout for two nuclear power plants, Davis-Besse and Perry, operated at the time by a wholly owned FirstEnergy subsidiary. Surcharges slated to be tacked onto electricity bills statewide to pay for the bailout were eliminated in a partial repeal of the legislation in 2021 and never charged.