COLUMBUS, Ohio — In recently-filed documents, former Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives Larry Householder argued against some of the evidence the federal prosecutors want to bring against him in one of the most significant corruption trials Ohio has ever seen.
Ohio’s federal bribery case will reveal if a former Statehouse leader put a price on legislation — $60 million, to be exact.
On Jan. 23, the public will learn how and why FirstEnergy paid $60 million to the nonprofit Generation Now, which Householder allegedly controlled. The speaker is accused of working with former GOP leader Matt Borges and at least three others to pass a billion-dollar bailout for the struggling nuclear power company. This $1.3 billion bailout led to raised electricity rates and had Ohioans paying for fossil fuel power plants, one not even in the state.
Householder and Borges were two of five people arrested back in 2020. House operative Jeff Longstreth and lobbyist Juan Cespedes both pleaded guilty in the case. Longtime lobbyist Neil Clark died by suicide.
"The government is going to have to show some kind of corrupt motive," Case Western Reserve University law professor and constitution expert Jonathan Entin said.
The government already issued its pretrial brief, sharing what evidence it wants to bring into court and what should be left out. Now, Householder and Borges, both maintaining innocence, argue back.
The defense argued against using recordings, transcripts from recordings, statements or conversations from agents or coconspirators.
"Certain of the evidence that the government wants to use, the recordings involving other people were neither Householder nor Borges was in the conversation," Entin began. "The defense says 'We weren't in those conversations and the government can't use those recordings unless it can show some connection between the conversation and the defendants.'"
So far, the government has not successfully accomplished that, Householder's attorneys Steven Bradley and Nicholas Oleski argued.
The key issue on the recordings: How much of a connection does there have to be between those recordings and Householder and Borges?
Hearsay isn't typically used in court because secondhand information isn't considered reliable, however, there are numerous exceptions.
"The idea is, 'well, this is more reliable than the typical hearsay situation,' or 'there isn't likely to be much room for debate about whether this evidence is reliable,'" Entin said about the prosecutors' point of view.
Merits of H.B. 6
The prosecution made a point in its brief to ask the judge to exclude any evidence on the merits of the legislation from the court. Householder disagreed with this.
"The Court should not permit the government to have its cake (by arguing that HB 6 was a bailout that was passed because Householder was allegedly bribed) and eat it too (by preventing the defendants from arguing that H.B. 6 was not bailout and that Householder advocated for H.B. 6 for reasons entirely unrelated to FirstEnergy’s contributions)," the document stated.
The prosecution has already contended that the case is about taking money for unlawful purposes, not the legislation.
"Householder and Borges are going to try to allow evidence to come in that — whether H.B. 6 was sensible public policy or not — they thought it was, then they could not have acted in a corrupt way," Entin said. "The government is going to say you're pulling our leg, basically."
The defense intends to argue that Householder advocated for the bailout, not because he was allegedly bribed, but because he believed that H.B. 6 was good legislation.
This can also be combined with the good faith argument. Prosecutors originally asserted that some tactics the defense may try aren’t legitimate — such as using this defense, which would argue Householder and Borges didn’t know they were doing something illegal. Defense said this was never the plan since the lawmaker is innocent.
"He will argue that he did not enter into any kind of bribery agreement and that his good faith defeats the government’s argument that he acted with intent to defraud," the document said.
Timothy S. Black, senior district judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, will be presiding over this case. He was nominated for the job by former President Barack Obama in 2009.
"Whatever Judge Black ultimately decides on these issues will help to set the agenda for what actually happens during the trial," Entin said.
Black has numerous other decisions to make. On Monday, Borges joined Householder in asking for the court to exclude the two coconspirator plea agreements.
"The defense might be saying 'We don't want the fact that they were plea agreements or negotiations with some of the other defendants to come into evidence because that might imply that there actually was this big conspiracy that the government saying we're part of that,'" Entin said.
Jury selection is set to begin on Jan. 20 in Cincinnati, with the trial following three days later. The vast majority of federal courts do not allow cameras inside, and this trial will not be able to be streamed or televised. Journalists will be able to report without pictures or videos.
RELATED: Dozens of companies, AG Yost, former lawmakers subpoenaed ahead of Householder corruption trial
To learn more in-depth about the prosecution's case and the dozens of subpoenas issued, watch more in the player below.