The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
Former Speaker of the Ohio House Larry Householder asked a federal judge to toss out a case against him that prosecutors have called the largest probe of public corruption in state history.
In a motion filed late Tuesday evening, lawyers for Householder argued that there was no “quid pro quo,” or explicit favor-for-a-favor agreement, between utility giant FirstEnergy Corp. and Householder.
Without an “explicit” quid pro quo, Householder argued, a prosecution would be targeting conduct that is not only legal but “in a very real sense unavoidable so long as election campaigns are financed by private contributions.”
Instead of law enforcement, Householder argued the prosecutors were just using the law here to impose their standards of policymaking and good government on the state.
In June 2020, federal prosecutors accused Householder of accepting $60 million from FirstEnergy, through a web of nonprofits he secretly controlled, to ensure the passage of House Bill 6.
The legislation provided FirstEnergy ratepayer funded bailouts for nuclear plants owned at the time by a company subsidiary, ratepayer-funded protections against drops in energy revenues, and a host of other provisions favorable to the company. It was worth an estimated $1.3 billion to FirstEnergy.
Householder, a political adviser, and three lobbyists were accused of using the money to elect a slate of candidates who elected Householder as speaker; to engineer passage of the bill; and for personal enrichment.
Last summer, FirstEnergy entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with prosecutors in which it admitted to using the nonprofit to “conceal payments for the benefit of public officials and in return for official action.” The agreement also accused Sam Randazzo, just before accepting a gubernatorial appointment as Ohio’s top utility regulator, of accepting a $4.3 million bribe from the company. Randazzo has not been charged with a crime and has publicly declared his innocence.
The motion filed Tuesday doesn’t address the two pleas of guilt (one of which came from a longtime Householder adviser) or FirstEnergy’s admission. However, according to Householder, the accusations against him fail to show a relationship joining the alleged conspirators or any sort of cohesive goal.
“Instead, the allegations at most set forth a ‘hub-and-spoke’ structure — with FirstEnergy occupying the hub and Defendants the spokes — with no common rim linking the individual spokes together,” he said.
As such, Householder also asked the court to separate his case from the other remaining alleged co-conspirator, lobbyist and former state GOP chairman Matt Borges. In that motion, he said prosecutors failed to show that Householder ever knew of Borges’ alleged actions or that Borges ever did anything to further their conspiracy.
The requests tee up some of the first significant rulings on the case from U.S. District Judge Timothy Black, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Late last month, lawyers for all parties told Black they’d expect a trial to last about six weeks. That trial could occur this fall, but the complicated case and more than a million documents traded during the evidence-trading process could bog down the timeline.
Also Tuesday, Householder asked permission to file documents under seal (not public). These motions, he said, would quote from and reference government applications and affidavits used to obtain wiretap orders against him.