Prosecution rests in ex-House speaker’s trial

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Householder accused of bribery

CINCINNATI (AP) — The federal government rested its case Monday in former Republican Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder’s racketeering trial after presenting jurors with reams of financial documents, emails, texts, wire-tap audio and firsthand accounts of what prosecutors allege was a $60 million bribery scheme to pass a $1 billion ratepayer-funded nuclear bailout.

The prosecution completed its work in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati five weeks to the day after opening statements in Ohio’s largest ever corruption case. 

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Their portion took a bit longer than projected because a spate of illnesses hit the courtroom, prompting Judge Timothy Black to pause proceedings.

Lawyers for Householder, 63, and co-defendant Matt Borges, 50, a lobbyist and former state chair of the Ohio Republican Party, went immediately to work to begin their defense, calling state Sen. Bill Seitz to testify on the merits of the bailout bill at the case’s heart.

Householder, once one of Ohio’s most powerful politicians, could testify on his own behalf. He has said he couldn’t wait for his defense to begin.

It’s been two-and-a-half years since Householder, Borges and three others were arrested and charged in an elaborate scheme, secretly funded by Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., 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 prosecution called two of those arrested — Juan Cespedes and Jeff Longstreth, who have both pleaded guilty — to the stand to give firsthand accounts of what they said are not ordinary political contributions, but bribes intended to secure passage of the bailout bill, known as House Bill 6. Householder’s attorneys have described his activities as nothing more than hardball politics.

Monday’s witness, political operative Tyler Fehrman, testified that Borges tried to bribe him with a $15,000 check to secure inside information about the referendum campaign on the bill that he was working for at the time. Borges’ attorneys have said the money was a loan for a friend in need.

“Matt’s requests to me were shocking,” Fehrman told jurors. “I felt like I was being taken advantage of by someone I trusted.”