CINCINNATI — After nearly six weeks of testimony and nearly 10 hours of deliberations, a jury found former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges guilty of racketeering conspiracy charges.
Lawyers for the federal government presented evidence and witnesses to prove the two were involved in a pay-to-play scheme that traded money for political favors.
Borges hung his head as the judge read the guilty verdict. Householder, his face covered with a mask, had no visible reaction.
“As presented by the trial team, Larry Householder illegally sold the Statehouse, and thus he ultimately betrayed the great people of Ohio he was elected to serve,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker. “Matt Borges was a willing co-conspirator, who paid bribe money for insider information to assist Householder. Through its verdict today, the jury reaffirmed that the illegal acts committed by both men will not be tolerated and that they should be held accountable,” he said.
The conspiracy involved nearly $61 million in bribes designed to pass and protect a billion-dollar nuclear plant bailout bill to benefit two nuclear power plants, then-owned by a FirstEnergy subsidiary.
Prosecutors said FirstEnergy funneled the money through Generation Now, a 501c4, an IRS-recognized nonprofit organization commonly referred to as a dark money group because the entity is not required to disclose its donors.
The government said Householder and his team spent millions to support Ohio House candidates who would back him for House Speaker, and once he was elected speaker, he helped push through HB6, the nuclear bailout bill. In addition, the government showed that
Householder spent more than a half million dollars to pay off his credit card balances, settle a business lawsuit, and repair a home he owned in Florida.
"I respect their decision but I don't agree with it," Householder said as he exited the courthouse to a group of journalists.
Borges was found guilty for his role in trying to protect the bill from a ballot initiative that would have undone the legislation. Prosecutors said Borges tried to bribe a Republican operative for insider information, and said he also received more than $366,000 for his personal benefit.
Borges, too, spoke to reporters outside. “I did not believe that anything proved that I committed, that I had engaged in racketeering conspiracy, which is why I fought this from the beginning,” he said.
State lawmakers from both parties reacted to the verdict. Ohio Democratic Party Chair Elizabeth Walters said, “For too long, Republican politicians and their wealthy, well-connected friends have gotten away with screwing over working Ohioans and then making those same working Ohioans foot the bill for GOP misdeeds. Today, Ohioans on the jury made clear: no one is above the law.”
“Justice was served today, and it now closes this chapter on Ohio’s largest corruption scandal in history. However, the issue of unlimited dark money and pay-to-play bribes being funneled through our political systems undoubtedly remains. We owe it to all Ohioans to rip these roots out permanently so taxpayers are never on the hook like this again, and so the government can regain the trust of the people,” said Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Columbus.
Russo said State Reps. Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park, and Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Westlake, plan to reintroduce the Ohio Anti-Corruption Act which would require dark money groups to identify their contributors and disclose their spending.
"Public corruption should never be tolerated by any party in Ohio. Hopefully, this verdict serves as a warning to other bad actors who may be considering breaking the public's trust,” said Ohio GOP Spokesman Dan Lusheck.
Two other men were also charged but accepted plea deals. Juan Cespedes, a former lobbyist at FirstEnergy Solutions, and Jeffrey Longstreth, a Republican strategist, both testified for the prosecution. A third defendant, Neil Clark, died by suicide in 2021. FirstEnergy agreed in 2021 to pay $230 in a deferred prosecution agreement, admitting it paid millions of dollars to public officials to help pass the bailout to benefit its interests.
Both Householder and Borges both explicitly said as they walked out the courthouse that they planned to appeal. A sentencing date has not been set, but Judge Timothy Black said it could be as long as a few months from now. Householder and Borges each face up to 20 years in prison.