Ohio’s former House speaker and ex-Ohio Republican Party chair have been convicted in their federal racketeering trial

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CINCINNATI (Statehouse News Bureau) — Republican former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder and ex-Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges have been convicted in a federal court in Cincinnati.

Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, center, walks into Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse with his attorneys, Mark Marein, left, and Steven Bradley, right, before jury selection in his federal trial
Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, center, walks into Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse with his attorneys. [Joshua A. Bickel | AP]
The two were found guilty on a charge of racketeering. They were accused in a $61 million bribery scheme to pass the nuclear power plant bailout law House Bill 6 for FirstEnergy in 2019 with the help of the dark money group Generation Now, and attempting to stop a referendum to repeal that bailout.

It was described as “the largest bribery, money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio” by former US Attorney David Devillers, who filed the charges against Householder and Borges in July 2020.

Jurors deliberated for around nine and a half hours, and asked no questions.

Others charged in the case pleaded guilty months ago.

Juan Cespedes, who had been a lobbyist for FirstEnergy Solutions, the subsidiary that owned the plants, and Householder’s political strategist Jeff Longstreth pleaded guilty in October 2020, just a few months after the arrest of Householder and Borges. They both testified for the prosecution during the trial.

Generation Now admitted guilt in February 2021. FirstEnergy entered a deferred plea agreement along with a $230 million fine in July 2021.

The trial started in January and went on for more than six weeks, with a few delays at first because of positive COVID tests among jurors. Prosecutors spent more than a month presenting their case, featuring thousands of documents and hundreds of hours of recordings as evidence. Prosecutors rested case on February 27, after calling an FBI special agent, some former state lawmakers who had voted against House Bill 6, and Republican strategist turned FBI informant Tyler Fehrman.

Householder’s team called Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) and a couple of former lawmakers, and then Householder himself. His lawyer made the case that Householder engaged in “political activity, not criminal activity” in pushing House Bill 6, which he said he did because he thought it was good policy and not because of influence or bribes from FirstEnergy.

Borges did not mount a defense or call any witnesses during the trial. But in closing arguments, his attorney positioned Borges as an outsider in this plan, and said if jurors determine there isn’t a bribe, there couldn’t be money laundering by his client. And he added that Borges never intended to bribe FBI informant Fehrman, who had been working for the group trying to put a repeal of House Bill 6 on the ballot.

Householder and Borges face a maximum of 20 years in prison.