CINCINNATI (AP) — Ohio lobbyist Matt Borges was sentenced Friday to five years in prison and three years of probation for his part in the largest corruption scandal in Ohio history, a sentence the former Ohio Republican Party chair vowed to appeal.
The punishment by U.S. District Judge Timothy Black came just a day after former Republican Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, who was convicted of racketeering alongside Borges earlier this year, was sentenced to 20 years. Householder also plans to fight his sentence.
Borges had asked to be sentenced to 12 months, while prosecutors recommended 5 to 8 years.
Following sentencing, Borges was immediately taken into custody and escorted from the courtroom in handcuffs.
A jury found the pair guilty in March, determining that Householder orchestrated and Borges participated in a $60 million bribery scheme secretly funded by Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. to secure Householder’s power, elect his allies and pass and defend a $1 billion nuclear plant bailout. Specifically, Borges was found to have offered a bribe in exchange for inside information on a referendum campaign aimed at repealing the bailout law.
During the trial, Borges sought to distance himself from Householder — once one of Ohio’s most powerful Republican politicians — with his defense team highlighting his absence from meetings held by Householder’s allies and Borges quipping audibly in the courtroom that he didn’t even like the man.
After Householder confirmed on the stand during their trial that Borges was not among his confidantes, the younger Republican opted against testifying on his own behalf.
But it mattered during sentencing that Borges was convicted years before in an earlier state government pay-to-play scandal. Borges, who served as a campaign staffer and chief of staff to then-Republican State Treasurer Joe Deters, pleaded guilty in 2004 to one count of improper use of a public office. He was fined $1,000, but avoided jail time of up to six months.
Borges was charged with giving 10 brokers who had contributed to Deters’ campaign fund an advantage in getting contracts with the office of the treasurer — Ohio’s chief investment officer. A Deters fundraiser and a lobbyist who served as a go-between to the preferential treatment also were convicted.
Though Deters was never directly connected to the scheme, it stymied his career in state politics for almost two decades. That was, until GOP Gov. Mike DeWine named him in December to an open seat on the Ohio Supreme Court.
Because of his association with Borges, Deters has recused himself from a separate state case against FirstEnergy stemming from the scandal that’s been appealed to the high court.
Householder and Borges were among five people arrested by federal authorities in July 2020, charged along with a dark money group, for their roles in the wide-ranging scheme. A federal investigation remains ongoing.
Two others — Juan Cespedes and Jeff Longstreth — have pleaded guilty and are cooperating as they await sentences of up to six months in prison. A third man, the late Statehouse superlobbyist Neil Clark, pleaded not guilty before dying by suicide in 2021. Generation Now, the 501(c) nonprofit through which much of the money flowed, also has pleaded guilty to racketeering.
FirstEnergy also has admitted to its role, admitting in an agreement with the government to using dark money groups to fund the effort and agreeing to pay a $230 million fine and meet other conditions in order to avoid prosecution.