Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET
FBI agents arrested Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder on Tuesday morning at his rural farm. Householder was taken into custody in connection with a $60 million bribery scheme allegedly involving state officials and associates.
Four others were also arrested: former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, Householder adviser Jeffrey Longstreth, and lobbyists Neil Clark and Juan Cespedes.
The charges are linked to a controversial law passed last year that bailed out two nuclear power plants in the state while gutting subsidies for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The federal complaint describes a years-long bribery campaign to build support for Householder’s bid to become House Speaker and then pass the nuclear bailout law with his help. Householder won the Speakership in January 2019, and the bailout passed in July 2019. It went into effect in October.
Householder, a Republican, represents a district east of Columbus. He was first elected to the Ohio House in 1997, and served as Speaker from 2001-2004, when he stepped down due to term limits. He then worked as Perry County Auditor before returning to the House in 2017.
Householder, Longstreth, Clark, Borges, and Cespedes were each charged with “conspiracy to participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of an enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity.” The charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.
The criminal complaint also charges Generation Now, which it describes as “a 501(c)(4) entity secretly controlled by Householder.”
Federal prosecutors say that an unnamed company — but which would appear to be nuclear power company FirstEnergy Solutions — paid Householder’s Generation Now more than $2.9 million in 2017 and 2018.
“Make no mistake, this is Larry Householder’s 501 (c)(4),” U.S. Attorney David DeVillers told reporters on Tuesday. The money from the scheme was spent to the detriment of other political candidates and the people of Ohio, DeVillers said.
Members of Householder’s enterprise used those payments for their own personal benefit and to gain support for Householder’s bid to become Speaker, prosecutors say.
“In the Spring and Fall of 2018, the Enterprise spent millions in Company A money to support House candidates involved in primary and general elections whom the Enterprise believed both would vote for Householder as Speaker and, ultimately, would follow his lead as Speaker and vote for bailout legislation for Company A,” the complaint states.
Prosecutors say that while there are no charges yet against Company A, the investigation is ongoing. Preliminary hearings are set for early August.
At a Tuesday court hearing, the defendants were ordered to surrender any firearms and to remain within the Southern District of Ohio. They are barred from communicating with anyone who may become witnesses in the trial, including the other men charged today. Those with passports were ordered to surrender them.
Last year’s nuclear bailout law tacked on a charge to residents’ power bills, sending $150 million a year to the nuclear power plants. They are owned by the company Energy Harbor, which was previously known as FirstEnergy Solutions.
The law also included an additional subsidy for two coal plants.
An investigation by nonprofit journalism site Eye on Ohio found that the nuclear company spent nearly $2 million to push the bailout bill. An opponent of the bill estimated that as much as $15 million may have been spent on it.
NPR member station WOSU reported that FirstEnergy contributed more than $150,000 to Ohio House Republicans in the run-up to the 2018 election — including over $25,000 in donations to Householder’s campaign.
“According to the state lobbyist database, Energy Harbor is the only client listed for Cespedes,” WOSU reported. “Borges also worked as a lobbyist for FirstEnergy Solutions, while Longstreth is connected to Generation Now, which campaigned against the bailout referendum.”