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Householder public corruption trial delayed for third time, will resume next week

Largest bribery trial in state history may now last into mid-March
Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder enters U.S. District Court in Cincinnati on Jan. 23, 2023.
Posted at 4:48 PM, Feb 17, 2023

CINCINNATI — The largest public corruption trial in Ohio history was delayed for the third time on Friday, apparently because former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder is sick.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black’s office confirmed the trial delay. The Columbus Dispatch reported that Householder’s attorney, Steven Bradley, said that Householder is sick but does not have COVID.

So far illness has caused nearly seven days of missed court time. The trial of Householder and former Ohio GOP chair turned lobbyist Matt Borges was expected to take four to six weeks, but now with so many delays, it may stretch into mid-March.

Two jurors were dismissed over the past few weeksafter they tested positive for COVID. After the second COVID case, Black implemented new safety measures – requiring jurors to wear N95 masks, take at-home tests for COVID each morning before coming to court, and social distance from each other while in the jury room. He also ordered better air filtration in the courtroom and the jury room.

Black said he consulted an expert on how to control the spread of COVID. If no additional jurors had tested positive by last Wednesday, which they did not, he felt that the COVID outbreak had been contained.

FBI forensic accountant Christopher Hartsel will resume his testimony on Tuesday after the President’s Day holiday on Monday. He is the prosecution’s 10th witness and is describing how tens of millions in dark money flowed from FirstEnergy Corp and its subsidiaries through the Generation Now 501c4 nonprofit, and into bank accounts controlled by Borges and others involved in the case.

Hartsel testified that he reviewed 90 bank accounts in this case.

A grand jury indicted Householder and four associates with racketeering conspiracy for being part of a criminal enterprise. They allegedly took nearly $61 million from Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. and funneled the dark money through a nonprofit, Generation Now, to build a power base for Householder and pass a $1.3 billion bailout for two nuclear plants.

Two defendants pleaded guilty: lobbyist Juan Cespedes, who testified this week, and political advisor Jeffrey Longstreth, who is expected to testify later in the trial.

Householder proxy Neil Clark, a prominent Columbus lobbyist, was also indicted, but he took his own life a year after his arrest. He died from a gunshot wound to the head in March 2021, while wearing a blue “DeWine for Governor” T-shirt, according to his Florida autopsy report which was reported by numerous media outlets.

Jurors listened to many secret recordings of Clark speaking to undercover agents who were posing as developers. These are the same agents who helped convict former Cincinnati City Councilman PG Sittenfeld of bribery last July.