'I am guilty': Co-conspirator testifies against former Ohio Speaker Larry Householder in corruption trial

Juan Cespedes testifying against former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder
Posted at 7:40 PM, Feb 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-14 20:26:32-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Former FirstEnergy Solutions lobbyist Juan Cespedes admitted guilt under oath in the multi-million dollar bribery scheme, adding that another major bribe was in the works following the passage of legislation that gave his company a billion-dollar bailout.

Cespedes testified against former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former GOP leader Matt Borges in a $60 million racketeering scheme that raised utility costs for taxpayers. Cespedes and House operative Jeff Longstreth pleaded guilty. Longtime lobbyist Neil Clark died by suicide outside his Florida home after pleading not guilty.

RELATED: What to know about the Householder trial so far

The coconspirator’s testimony could be what's needed for the jury to return a guilty verdict for Householder and Borges, criminal defense attorney and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin O’Brien said.

"The effect could be devastating," criminal defense attorney Kevin O’Brien said. "The fact that he's candid about his guilt, after so much equivocation and smoke — it creates a nice contrast for the government."

The FBI reported that the co-conspirator received more than $650,000 for his work with the utility company in securing House Bill 6, which gave FirstEnergy the bailout.

FirstEnergy already confessed to bribing Householder to help its failing corporation. Their treasurer testified in the first week of the trial. The government said it wouldn't prosecute if the corporation cooperates with the investigation and trial, creating a deferred prosecution agreement, plus it must pay a $230 million fine.

Cespedes also revealed that bribes were planned out, including when Borges tried to pay Tyler Fehrman, an FBI informant, $15,000 for information on an effort to repeal H.B. 6.

"It sounds like that's going to be a hard row to hoe for these defense lawyers," O'Brien added.

FirstEnergy Solutions wanted to do anything to keep Householder as the speaker for as long as possible, which lead to the proposal of a continued bribe, according to Cespedes. The team was committed to spending millions to extend term limits. Householder wanted to keep power and FirstEnergy wanted four more years on its nuclear bailout subsidy, he said. COVID-19 and the speaker's arrest curbed those plans.

Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Entin explained how the defense can dismantle his sworn statement.

"The defense could say, 'You're testifying against this defendant because you made a deal with the prosecution,'" he said.

Cespedes, who was also charged in the conspiracy, took a plea deal in 2020. Revealed in cross-examination, if the former lobbyist continues to cooperate, prosecutors would recommend between zero to six months in prison.

The defense can argue that Cespedes had nothing to lose from testifying, Entin said. That's exactly what Householder's attorney did.

"You're required to testify on behalf of the government," a defense attorney said to Cespedes.

Cespedes responded that he is testifying on behalf of the facts and "there's only one truth in these matters."

"So you have a motive, right, about this person to curry favor with the prosecutor?" Entin continued as if he was the defense attorney.

He is hoping the judge will reward him with a lesser sentence so he could go on with his life, O'Brien added, also acting as though he was the defense.

"So you have a motive to lie about this person to curry favor with the prosecutor," Entin continued as if he was the defense attorney.

Despite all of this, Cespedes is in the best situation he could be and his testimony will be damning, O'Brien said.

The Borges team will get to cross-examine Cespedes Wednesday. Longstreth is expected to testify during the trial, as well.

News 5 Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau has been in Cincinnati covering the trial with news partners Paula Christian of WCPOand Marty Schladen of Ohio Capital Journal.

Previous coverage of the scandal is can be found by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of the page.

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