Householder illness delays public corruption trial
CINCINNATI — Testimony in the racketeering trial of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and lobbyist and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges was canceled Friday because of an illness with Householder.
“I’m happy to say no COVID,” one of his attorneys, Steven Bradley, said. “I expect we will resume on Tuesday.”
Testimony had been abbreviated Thursday because of a scheduling conflict with one of the jurors but had been expected to resume on time
Friday for a full day. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black issued an order attributing Friday’s cancellation to “unforeseen circumstances,” also with the expectation of getting back to work Tuesday.
Monday is Presidents Day, a government holiday, so court would not have been in session anyway.
This marks the sixth day of canceled testimony in the trial since it started in Cincinnati four weeks ago. All prior cancellations were related to jurors coming down with coronavirus with two of them being excused. The court now has just two alternates to spare for a trial that was slated to last six weeks. The court has been unable to date to squeeze in a full five-day week of testimony.
When the court broke Thursday, the prosecution was presenting testimony from FBI forensics accountant Christopher Hartsel, who was demonstrating how Firstenergy money dominated the pipeline of funds that fueled what the prosecution describes as a $61 million bribery and money laundering scheme. He is expected to continue on the stand Tuesday.
While other entities had also contributed to the nonprofit Generation Now and related organizations, the vast majority of it ultimately traced back to the Akronbased corporation and its then subsidiary, Firstenergy Solutions.
The subsidiary, which emerged as the independent Energy Harbor after bankruptcy, is the owner of the two nuclear power plants — Davis-besse near Oak Harbor and Perry east of Cleveland — that were to benefit from a $1.3 billion, consumer bailout that was the electric utility’s goal.
The scheme, which some participants and Firstenergy have admitted existed, was created to help Householder elect his chosen slate of state representative candidates in 2018 under the understanding that they would then vote for him to return to the speaker’s podium in 2019. Once that was accomplished, the prosecution said he successfully pushed for passage of House Bill 6, the bailout law, and then to kill a subsequent petition effort to block the new law and subject is to possible voter repeal in 2020.
Borges is accused of playing a large role in the referendum effort, bribing a political consultant working for the petition effort for inside information on its progress and tactics.
Informants, including that consultant, ultimately placed a spotlight on the “dark money” scheme, in which the prosecution contends the major players benefited professionally, politically, and financially.
Former FES lobbyist Juan Cespedes has testified for the prosecution. Close Householder political ally Jeff Longstreth also pleaded guilty and is expected to do the same. Generation Now, via Longstreth as its officer, pleaded guilty. Firstenergy entered into a deferred prosecution agreement in which it admitted to banking the scheme. It paid a $230 million fine, but no individual decision-makers have been charged.