Springfield News-Sun

Householde­r illness delays public corruption trial

- By Jim Provance

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.

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