COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW)– Federal investigators exposed the dark money behind last year’s nuclear power bailout in Ohio as a $60 million criminal bribery scheme. It led to the arrests of several key players in Ohio politics on Tuesday.
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, former Ohio Republican Party Chairman and political consultant Matt Borges, lobbyist and commissioner of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission Juan Cespedes, prominent Columbus lobbyist Neil Clark, and consultant and longtime Householder adviser Jeffrey Longstretch face charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering. They each face a maximum of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Householder’s organization Generation Now is also charged. FBI agents raided his farm in Perry County Tuesday morning.
“Make no mistake these allegations are bribery pure and simple. This was a quid pro quo. This was pay to play,” said David DeVillers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. He said it’s the largest bribery and money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of Ohio.
DeVillers said the plan was to pass and maintain a $1.5 billion bailout of FirstEnergy Solutions’ Perry and Davis-Bessie nuclear power plants in return for $61 million in dark money, which was used to line their pockets, build a power base for Householder and further the conspiracy.
The company is not specifically mentioned in the criminal complaint. DeVillers said no one at “Company A” has been charged and remarked that, “Everyone in this room knows who ‘Company A’ is,” during his news conference Tuesday afternoon.
In a statement, FirstEnergy Corp. said it received subpoenas in connection with an investigation into HB6, adding, “We are reviewing the details of the investigation and we intend to fully cooperate.”
The criminal complaint stated “Company A” paid the defendants through Generation Now and funded efforts to pass House Bill 6 in 2019. Money was used to crush a ballot initiative that would have killed HB6 by bribing ballot collectors and paying ballot services to do nothing, according to DeVillers.
As a 501c4, Generation Now did not have to disclose the donors to the enterprise, which was essential to its success, according to the U.S. attorney. While it was supposed to be a social welfare program, not a dime of the $60 million went towards that purpose, DeVillers said.
Householder was released from custody on Tuesday. He cannot obtain a passport and travel must be limited to the Southern District of Ohio unless approved by pretrial services. He must avoid contact with victims, witnesses and codefendants, and must give up his firearms.
Cincinnati Division of the FBI Special Agent in Charge Chris Hoffman called the scheme a “Shameful betrayal of the public trust” and a “Sophisticated criminal conspiracy,” where the individuals diverted money for their own personal use.
DeVillers said there is no evidence that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine‘s office was involved in the enterprise. The governor issued a statement, calling for Householder’s resignation and saying this is a sad day for Ohio.
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