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Ex-GOP Ohio House speaker sentenced to 20 years for role in $60M bribery scheme; appeal expected

KIFI

By JULIE CARR SMYTH
Associated Press

CINCINNATI (AP) — Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison for his role in the largest corruption scandal in state history and taken immediately into custody, a judge declaring that “the court and the community’s patience with Larry Householder has expired.”

The 64-year-old Republican tensed only slightly as U.S. District Judge Timothy Black meted out the punishment, the maximum under the law, and appeared somewhat disoriented as U.S. Marshals placed him in handcuffs. He glanced back briefly at his wife, Taundra, who exited the courtroom with his Perry County Ducks Unlimited ball cap folded in her hands.

Ahead of his sentencing, Householder stood before Black to make a personal appeal for leniency, saying it was not himself that a harsh prison sentence would hurt most but his spouse of 40 years, his sons, grandchildren and friends.

“I wasn’t power hungry. I went home,” he said of his departure from the Ohio House between speakerships. Householder told the judge that he and his wife had given “every ounce of energy we have to make life better for others.”

In a blistering rebuke, Black threw back at Householder evidence counter to the family man image he had presented. He quoted Householder’s own statements, presented at trial, saying: “If you’re going to f—- with me, I’m going to f—- with your kids,” “we can f— with him later” and “f—- him ’til he’s dead.”

Black called Householder “a bully with a lust for power” whose scheme marked an “assault on democracy, the betrayal of everyone in Ohio.” That included the Ohioans who donated to, campaigned for and voted for Householder, the judge said.

“That wasn’t their way of just saying I like you or I support you. What they were saying is I’m choosing to trust you,” said Black. “They trusted you to do right by them, and you betrayed their trust.”

Householder and lobbyist Matt Borges, a former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, were both convicted in March of a single racketeering charge each, after a six-week trial. Borges is set to be sentenced Friday.

Jurors found that Householder orchestrated and Borges participated in a $60 million bribery scheme secretly funded by Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. to secure Householder’s power, elect his allies, pass legislation containing a $1 billion bailout for two aging nuclear power plants owned by a FirstEnergy affiliate and then to use a dirty tricks campaign to stifle a ballot effort to overturn the bill.

Federal prosecutors had recommended Householder receive 16 to 20 years, holding in a sentencing memo that he “acted as the quintessential mob boss, directing the criminal enterprise from the shadows and using his casket carriers to execute the scheme.” That strategy, they said, gave Householder ”plausible deniability.”

His own attorneys had recommended just 12 to 18 months, reporting to the judge that he is “a broken man” who has been “humiliated and disgraced” by the ordeal of his widely reported arrest, high-profile prosecution and seven-week trial by jury.

Outside the courthouse Thursday, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Ken Parker said the government was grateful for the judge’s sentence.

“We heard Mr. Householder indicate that he keeps close his faith, his family and his friends. I would have added one more: He needs to keep close the Ohioans, if he is going to serve this state. That’s what he left out,” Parker said. “That’s why he was here today and that’s why the judge imposed the highest level of accountability under the statute.”

Rachel Belz, CEO of the government watchdog group Ohio Citizen Action, expressed hope that Householder’s sentence would help restore public trust and allow the voice of the people to be “heard and valued” by decision makers.

“Democracy does not allow our leaders to wield power without the opportunity for the people to exercise a check on that power,” she said in a statement.

Householder was one of Ohio’s most powerful politicians, a historically twice-elected speaker, before his indictment. After his July 2020 arrest, the Republican-controlled House ousted him from his leadership post, but he refused to resign for nearly a year on grounds he was innocent until proven guilty. In a bipartisan vote, representatives ultimately ousted him from the chamber in 2021 — the first such expulsion in Ohio in 150 years.

All told, five people and a dark money group have been charged so far for their roles in the scheme. A federal investigation remains ongoing.

During the trial, the prosecution called two of the people arrested — Juan Cespedes and Jeff Longstreth, who both pleaded guilty and are cooperating — to testify about political contributions they said were not ordinary, but rather bribes intended to secure passage of the bailout legislation. Generation Now, the 501(c) nonprofit through which much of the money flowed, also has pleaded guilty to racketeering.

Cespedes and Longstreth face up to six months in prison each under their plea deals. Neither has been sentenced.

The last person arrested, the late Statehouse superlobbyist Neil Clark, was heard on tape in the courtroom. Clark had pleaded not guilty before dying by suicide in March 2021.

All the alleged members of the conspiracy benefited personally from the scheme, using sums that an FBI agent described colloquially as “bags of cash” from FirstEnergy. Householder spent around $500,000 of FirstEnergy money to settle a business lawsuit, pay attorneys, deal with expenses at his Florida home and pay off credit card debt. Another $97,000 was used to pay staff and expenses for his 2018 reelection campaign.

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