Paul Vernon / AP
Updated at 6:19 p.m. ET
FBI agents arrested Ohio House President Larry Householder on Tuesday morning at his rural farm. Householder has been taken into custody in connection with a $ 60 million bribery scheme allegedly involving state officials and associates.
Four other people were also arrested: former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, Householder adviser Jeffrey Longstreth and lobbyists Neil Clark and Juan Cespedes.
The charges relate to a controversial law passed last year that bailed out two state nuclear power plants while removing subsidies for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The federal complaint describes a multi-year campaign of corruption aimed at building support for Householder’s candidacy to become Speaker of the House and then pass the Nuclear Rescue Act with his help. Householder won the presidency in January 2019 and the bailout was adopted in July 2019. It went into effect in October.
Householder, a Republican, represents a district east of Columbus. He began serving in Ohio House in 1997 and was a speaker from 2001 to 2004, when he resigned due to term limits. He then worked as a Perry County auditor before returning to the House in 2017.
Householder, Longstreth, Clark, Borges and Cespedes have each been charged with “conspiracy to participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of the affairs of a company through racketeering activity”. The charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.
The criminal complaint also charges Generation Now, which it describes as “a 501 (c) (4) entity secretly controlled by Householder”.
Federal prosecutors say that between March 2017 and March 2020, entities linked to a joint-stock company – but believed to be nuclear power company FirstEnergy Solutions – paid Householder’s Generation Now about $ 60 million.
“Make no mistake, this is Larry Householder 501 (c) (4),” US Attorney David DeVillers told reporters on Tuesday. Program money was spent at the expense of other political candidates and the people of Ohio, DeVillers said.
Members of Householder’s company used the payments for their personal benefit and to gain support for Householder’s bid to become a speaker, prosecutors said.
“In the spring and fall of 2018, the Enterprise spent millions in Company A’s money to support House candidates involved in the primary and general elections who the company said would vote for the leader. family as president and ultimately follow his example as president and vote for a law to bail out Company A, ”the complaint states.
In return for payments, prosecutors say, Householder and his associates helped pass Bill 6, then worked to ensure it comes into effect by defeating a vote initiative.
The plan worked. The complaint says Householder-backed candidates who benefited from Generation Now money helped elect Householder as chairman. House Bill 6 was introduced three months after taking office – a law worth $ 1.3 billion for Company A.
Regular payments to Company A’s Householder’s secret society began in March 2017, a few months after his trip on Company A’s private jet, according to the federal complaint. But the payments became much larger after the legislation was introduced: In May 2019, while the bill was pending before lawmakers, Company A reportedly wired $ 8 million to Generation Now.
Householder and his associates used some of the money from direct mail and advertising to support the legislation, and some for their own benefit, prosecutors said.
The bill was passed by 51 to 38 votes. After the bill was enacted by Governor Mike DeWine, a campaign began to organize a voting initiative to overturn the law. The accounts controlled by Company A responded by wireing $ 38 million to Householder’s company between July and October 2019.
In total, Company A reportedly paid Householder Company $ 60 million over three years in exchange for the $ 1 billion bailout.
Prosecutors said the payments were “like bags of money – unlike campaign contributions or the PAC, they were not regulated, reported, or subject to public scrutiny – and the Company freely spent bribes to promote the political interests of the Company and to enrich themselves. “
Prosecutors say that while there are no charges against Company A yet, the investigation is ongoing.
FirstEnergy Solutions, the nuclear power plant company, was renamed Energy Harbor after emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. The Akron-based company employs about 2,600 people, according to February financial information.
“We are investigating the complaint and will cooperate fully with the government’s investigation,” Energy Harbor said in a statement to NPR.
At a court hearing on Tuesday, the defendants were ordered to turn over all firearms and remain in the Southern District of Ohio. They are prohibited from communicating with anyone who could become a witness at the trial, including the other men indicted on Tuesday. Those who have passports have been ordered to hand them over. Preliminary hearings are scheduled for early August.
The head of the family has already come under scrutiny. In 2004, it was reported that he was engaged in suspected corrupt activities, although he was never charged.
Gov. Mike DeWine has called for Householder’s resignation after the charges were announced Tuesday afternoon.
“I am deeply concerned by the allegations of wrongdoing made today by the US Attorney’s Office,” DeWine tweeted. “Due to the nature of these charges, it will be impossible for the household president to effectively lead the Ohio House of Representatives; therefore, I call on the household president to resign immediately. It’s a sad day for Ohio. “
Last year’s nuclear bailout law added a load to residents’ electricity bills, sending nuclear power plants $ 150 million a year. They are owned by Energy Harbor, previously known as FirstEnergy Solutions.
The law also provided for a subsidy for two coal-fired power stations.
NPR member station WOSU reported that FirstEnergy paid over $ 150,000 to Ohio House Republicans ahead of the 2018 election, including more than $ 25,000 in campaign donations from Householder.
“According to the state lobbyists database, Energy Harbor is the only customer listed for Cespedes,” WOSU reported. “Borges also worked as a lobbyist for FirstEnergy Solutions, while Longstreth is linked to Generation Now, which campaigned against the bailout referendum.”
The American Wind Energy Association has called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the passage of House Bill 6.
“It now appears that the passage of this bill was not only against the will of the people, but that it may also have involved a serious and possibly criminal irregularity,” said Andrew Gohn, business manager. from the Eastern State of the association, in a press release. “We call for a full review of the circumstances surrounding this attack on clean energy and for the DeWine government and legislature to suspend the implementation of HB 6 and ultimately repeal this harmful and regressive legislation.”