Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four others were on Tuesday arrested and charged as part of a $60 million racketeering and bribery probe that investigators called “the largest bribery, money-laundering scheme against the people of the state of Ohio.”
According to Fox news, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, David DeVillers announced the arrest of Householder, a Republican, and four co-defendants as part of a year-long investigation into public corruption and bribery tied to legislation that bailed out two nuclear power plants in the state.
“These allegations are bribery, pure and simple. “This was quid pro quo, this was pay to play, ” DeVillers said during a press conference.
Along with Householder, former Ohio GOP chairman, Matt Borges; lobbyist, Neil Clark; lobbyist and Ohio Civil Rights Commission member, Juan Cespedes and political consultant, Jeff Longstreth were also arrested in connection to the investigation.
Householder has been speaker since 2019 after previously having the position from 2001 to 2004. He left office due to term limits but rejoined the House in 2017. He is seen as one of the most powerful and influential state lawmakers in Ohio.
The allegations have rocked the state’s political scene, with Ohio GOP Governor, Mike DeWine calling for the speaker’s resignation on Tuesday.
“Because of the nature of these charges, it will be impossible for Speaker Householder to effectively lead the Ohio House of Representatives; therefore, I am calling on Speaker Householder to resign immediately. This is a sad day for Ohio,” Dewine said.
While neither DeVillers nor FBI Special Agent, Chris Hoffman would go into detail about the case, it is known that Householder was one of the driving forces behind a roughly $1 billion financial rescue for Ohio’s two nuclear power plants, which appeared to be tied to several targets of the investigation. The legislation added a new fee to every electricity bill in the state and directed over $150 million a year through 2026 to the plants near Cleveland and Toledo.
Previous attempts to bail out the nuclear plants had stalled in the legislature before Householder became speaker. Months after taking over, he rolled out a new plan to subsidize the plants and eliminate renewable energy incentives. The proposal was approved a year ago despite opposition from many business leaders and the manufacturing industry.
Generation Now, a group that successfully fought an effort to put a repeal of the bailout law on Ohio’s ballot, was charged as a corporation in the case.
FirstEnergy Corp., whose former subsidiaries owned the plants, donated heavily to Householder’s campaigns and his backers in the Ohio House. The utility’s political action committee contributed $25,000 to Householder’s campaign in 2018, according to an analysis by Common Cause Ohio, a government watchdog.
The defendants appeared in court and were not required to enter a plea. The judge ordered Householder released on his own recognizance and directed him not to obtain a passport, to restrict his travel to the southern half of Ohio and not to contact any other defendants. The judge also ordered him to remove any guns from his home.
Similar restrictions were imposed on Longstreth. The next hearing was tentatively set for August 6.
“This is the first time a racketeering charge has been used on a public official in the Southern District of Ohio. When lawmakers act as criminals, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are there and watching for it,”Hoffman said during the press conference.
Despite the arrests of Householder and his codefendants, DeVillers said the racketeering investigation is far from over and that it will now move into a public phase.
“As of this morning there are a lot of FBI agents knocking on doors, there are a lot of FBI agents asking questions, fulfilling subpoenas. This is by no means over, we are going to continue this investigation,” he said.
This is also not the first time Householder has been investigated for questionable practices.
At the time he left office, he and several top advisers were under federal investigation for alleged money laundering and irregular campaign practices. The government closed the case without filing charges.
Householder is the second Ohio House speaker to come under investigation in just over two years.
Former Republican Speaker, Cliff Rosenberger was investigated in 2018 amid an FBI inquiry into his travel, lavish lifestyle and a condo he rented from a wealthy GOP donor. Rosenberger, who has maintained he broke no laws, has not been charged, but the investigation remains open.