Ex-Ohio House speaker pleads not guilty in bribery scandal

Stripped of his political power post, State Rep. Larry Householder, R-Perry County, entered a not guilty plea to a federal racketeering charge Thursday in a video appearance before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Stephanie Bowman.

Householder, the former Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, is the last of five men to be arraigned in what U.S. Attorney David DeVillers called the biggest public bribery scheme in Ohio history.

Householder hired two new attorneys — Mark Marein and Steven Bradley — to represent him. His previous legal counsel withdrew from the case, citing a conflict of interest.

ExploreTimeline of House Bill 6 at root of racketeering case

The other members of the Ohio House voted to remove Householder as speaker on July 30, shortly after FBI agents arrested him and searched his property in Perry County. But House Republicans opted not to eject Householder from his state representative seat, saying the Ohio Constitution allows removal only once for the same conduct. Householder is running unopposed for re-election in November, though some challengers are trying to mount write-in campaigns. He represents a district in rural Perry County, southeast of Columbus.

Householder, lobbyists Neil Clark and Juan Cespedes, former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges and political strategist Jeff Longstreth are accused of running a criminal enterprise. Federal charges allege the group took $60 million in bribe money and used it to elect pro-Householder legislators, get Householder re-elected as speaker and in 2019 to pass and defend a controversial energy bailout law known as House Bill 6.

All five have pleaded not guilty.

Federal prosecutors used pseudonyms for the companies allegedly involved in the scheme but descriptions used in the 81-page criminal complaint indicate Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. and its former subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions are Company A and Company A-1 in the document. FirstEnergy Solutions, which operates two nuclear power plants in northern Ohio, emerged from bankruptcy in February under a new name, Energy Harbor.

ExploreLawmakers debate repeal of bailout bill at center of bribery case

House Bill 6 provided a $1.3 billion bailout for FirstEnergy Solutions. It also included so-called ’decoupling’ language that benefited FirstEnergy and included subsidies for coal-fired power plants operated by Ohio Valley Electric Corp., in which Dayton Power & Light holds an ownership interest. It also stripped away energy efficiency programs and renewable energy standards that had been in Ohio law for a decade.

The Ohio Manufacturers Association, which opposed HB6, said the decoupling language included in the new law “may allow FirstEnergy to collect $355 million through 2024 — and hundreds of millions more in later years — from Ohio’s electric ratepayers, including manufacturers.”

The Ohio Environmental Council estimates that owners of the Ohio Valley Electric Corp. would receive $70 million a year in subsidies through 2030, including $8.9 million a year for DP&L, under HB6.

Federal prosecutors allege that $60 million in bribe money was funneled through dark money groups to benefit Householder and his enterprise and in exchange, he pushed through HB6.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate are now debating plans to repeal and/or replace House Bill 6.

This week, Householder told reporters at the Ohio Statehouse that the bill is a good law that saves ratepayers money and preserves jobs.

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