Friday, June 30, 2023 Householder: Broken Government - racketeering sentencings underscore why Issue 1 to stifle citizens’ anti-corruption powers has to fail: editorial

Householder sentencing underscores why Issue 1 has to fail

June 28, 2023

Former House Speaker Larry Householder, once among Ohio’s most powerful politicians, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for his central role in the FirstEnergy/​House Bill 6 bribery and racketeering scandal. It’s the largest instance of public corruption in 220 years of Ohio statehood.

Given Householder’s age — he’s 64 — a 20-year sentence could amount to life imprisonment. But in tempering justice with mercy, the sentence U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black metes out should send a clear and unmistakable message that public corruption in Ohio, from the Statehouse on down, must stop. Now.

Still, the sentencing of Householder and of co-conspirator Matt Borges, former head of the Ohio Republican Party, who will be sentenced Friday — and who also faces up to 20 years, although prosecutors have asked for five to eight — is not all that’s at stake in this case.

Not by a long shot.

If not for the federal investigation, the vast H.B. 6 skein of interlocked political conspiracies, bribes, dirty tricks and dark-money groups would likely never have been uncovered — or the hidden sources of more than $60 million in dark-money bribes.

In a four-step scheme, Householder first got Republican allies elected to the Ohio House; got them to elect him speaker, then got H.B. 6 passed — those last two, be it noted, with the help of votes from Ohio House and state Senate Democrats — then warded off a bid by voter-petitioners to overturn H.B. 6 in a statewide referendum. All with the covert help of Akron-based FirstEnergy and dark money.

The apparent ease with which all that was done has to change. Our editorial series looking at the exposed, overlapping flaws in Ohio utility regulations, campaign laws, lobbying disclosure requirements, and dark money loopholes is titled, “Householder: Broken Government.” Transparency in government equates to empowerment of the people.

Yet, also empowering Ohioans are constitutional provisions adopted more than a century ago to ensure that citizens themselves can act as a brake on Statehouse corruption.

That 1912 Constitution gives Ohio citizens the power to initiate and adopt constitutional amendments by reasonable signature-gathering rules and a simple majority vote.

The aim then: to thwart the legislative inbreeding, pay-to-play cabals, and disdain for what the public wants or needs that has today been at the root of the Householder/​FirstEnergy/​H.B. 6 scandal.

It is truly ironic that, a month and a half after Householder and Borges are to be sentenced, Ohioans will go to the polls for an Aug. 8 special election greased by political insiders who seek to degrade that very citizen-initiated constitutional amendment power.

Misleading and biased ballot language tries to hide Issue 1′s true purpose. But make no mistake: There is a straight line from a Statehouse where the H.B. 6 dodges that allowed special-interest money to prevail are still at play to Issue 1 on the Aug. 8 ballot, seeking to stifle citizens’ ability to counter a corrupt General Assembly.

Any fair-minded assessment of what Householder, Borges and their co-conspirators wrought must take note of the many involved individuals never charged in the case, many of them still holding positions of power.

As’s Jake Zuckerman noted in a recent overview, Householder and Borges were found guilty of racketeering conspiracy for taking bribes that no one was indicted for paying.

Three other men and the dark-money group Generation Now also were indicted in the case; two men pleaded guilty and have yet to be sentenced; a third died by suicide. Generation Now also pleaded guilty.

At this stage, none of the utility officials who apparently authorized FirstEnergy’s funding of the H.B. 6 scandal has been charged with any wrongdoing.

In a deferred prosecution agreement, as part of which it agreed to pay a $230 million penalty, FirstEnergy admitted bribing the onetime chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Sam Randazzo. Mr. Randazzo, appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine, denies wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged with anything.

It appears that the federal investigation is continuing, and it should — root and branch. Federal investigators need to follow the trail wherever it leads, inside or outside the Statehouse.

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Dirty Larry's cohort gets five years

Borges sentenced to 5 years in prison

Toledo Blade
June 30, 2023 
CINCINNATI — Former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges was sentenced to five years in prison Friday for his role in Ohio's largest bribery scandal.
Borges was ordered to be immediately taken into custody. He rose, took off his suit jacket, untied his tie, and winked at his wife, Kate Borges, seated behind him, before being handcuffed and escorted from the federal courtroom.
On Thursday, former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was sentenced to the maximum — 20 years — for his role in a $61 million bribery and money laundering scheme spanning from 2016 to 2020. Both Householder and Borges had been charged on one count each of racketeering conspiracy.
Householder had requested a 12 to 18-month sentence, while the prosecution recommended 16 to 20 years. Borges had asked for a one-year, one-day sentence, while the prosecution recommended five to eight years.
But Borges’ sentence — the lower limit of the government’s recommendation — was attenuated by Borges’ statement before the Cincinnati court Friday. Borges acknowledged his decisions that facilitated and upheld the FirstEnergy bailout, despite not fully anticipating the weight of the consequences.
“No one held a gun to my head,” he said. “I owe the public an apology for acting out.”
To his friends, family, and colleagues, he said, “None of them are as disappointed in me as I am in myself.”
Judge Timothy Black interrupted Borges.
“That is what we call remorse,” Judge Black said. “That is a credit to you. Your conduct is not.”
Borges added that his family was facing financial hardship, exacerbated by the cost of legal proceedings, and that paying for the middle school tuition for his daughter had become a challenge.
“Your statement here today reached me,” Judge Black said. “What I learned about you..saved you from a sentence of 20 years.”
Mrs. Borges also spoke, with the judge’s permission. She described her husband as “a champion of the underdog” and a dedicated father, playing a crucial role in the life of their daughter with autism. “He [dives] into her head and draws her out,” she said.
“The morning that the FBI came and took him at 6 a.m., the same Matt Borges never came home,” she said, adding that her family has had “no chance to rebuild.”
She closed by citing words from her husband, who at 8 years old was quoted in a Rhode Island newspaper listing off things he’s grateful for: friends, family, school, the USA, and Ronald Reagan.
Judge Black told Mrs. Borges, “My heart goes out to you. My heart goes out to the people of Ohio as well.” He said he could not legally take into account Mr. Borges’ losses in his final sentence.
Both men aided Akron-based utility giant FirstEnergy Corp’s successful attempt to seek a $1.3 billion consumer-paid bailout of two subsidiary-owned nuclear power plants, then owned by a FirstEnergy subsidiary.
FirstEnergy had sought the bailout in exchange for funding Householder’s return to the speaker’s podium. In 2021, the utility giant admitted to bribery and paid a $230 million fine.
On Thursday, Householder’s position in a role of public trust and the bribery’s benefit to his political power was a focus as the judge announced his prison sentence.
Borges had aided Householder, laundering FirstEnergy money through his own account. He also attempted to bribe Tyler Fehrman, a Republican operative, to get information about the ballot campaign to overturn the legislation that enabled the FirstEnergy bailout. Borges also personally benefited in the amount of $366,000 to Householder’s $513,000.
But Judge Black distinguished between Householder, who he called “the mastermind” behind the scheme, and Borges.
“You didn’t swear an oath to the people of Ohio,” he said. “Your obligation was simply one that every human being carries.”
Judge Black’s reasoning for Borges’ sentence focused on his monetary benefit from the bribery scheme and his failure to allow Ohioans the opportunity to veto the bill that allowed FirstEnergy’s bailout to happen.
“Larry Householder was a crook and you knew it,” he said. “You just saw everybody else getting fat, cashing in, and you didn’t want to miss out on a chance to do the same.”
Judge Black did not dwell on Borges’ criminal history, including an expunged charge from 2004. Borges had then been found guilty of improperly using public office to give campaign donors preferential treatment at the treasurer’s office.
Judge Black quantified Borges’ involvement in the $61 million FirstEnergy bribery by adjusting it to the transactions that occurred in the timeframe during which Borges was involved in the scheme — between August and November 2019 — that amounted to $39 million.
Assistant U.S. attorney Matthew Singer said Borges’ individual case should be considered more heavily than two others — Juan Cespedes and Jeff Longstreth — who pleaded guilty and are cooperating with authorities as they await sentences of up to six months in prison.
Borges’ attorney, Karl Schneider, made an argument for Borges’ character in his private life amidst the political and legal drama of the last several years.
“One thing that is compelling to me,” Mr. Schneider said, “is he didn’t let that come home.” Describing Borges’ relationships with parents with dementia, Mr. Schneider said Borges “always put the good spin” on his political life to avoid making them worry. 
He added that Borges would not be expected to be a risk in the future.
“Matt’s not any longer going to be in the political realm, probably,” he said, adding the caveat, “I mean we can’t predict the future.”
Mr. Singer highlighted the importance of preventing future corrupt politicians with Borges’ sentence. “It would deter other insiders involved in or tempted by corruption,” he said.
Judge Black agreed, adding that he sought to deter Borges himself from future offenses. He said that Borges should have known better.
“If you swim in a cesspool — even if it’s a cesspool you didn’t create — you’re going to get poisoned,” the judge said.
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Thursday, June 29, 2023

Householder gets 20 years for $60M bribery scheme

Ex-GOP Ohio House speaker sentenced to 20 years for role in $60M bribery scheme; appeal expected
Associated Press
Updated June 29, 2023 at 6:59 PM
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.
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Editorial: Ending Ohio corruption

Toledo Blade

Editorial Board

June 29, 2023

The Justice Department has identified Ohio’s most appalling problem: a culture of corruption in the Capitol. (“Householder sentence must send a message, prosecution contends,” Monday.)

The sentencing memorandum asking for harsh sentences for convicted bribery conspirators Larry Householder and Matt Borges says it’s the main deterrent against “business as usual on Cap Square” that has metastasized into a cancer of casual criminality.

“Numerous lobbyists, law firm, consultants and strategists knew Householder … was receiving millions of dollars from FirstEnergy while advancing the bailout. Rather than report Householder’s and FirstEnergy’s conduct to law enforcement these individuals knowingly furthered the enterprise’s efforts.”

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Prosecutors conclude crime pays “handsomely” at the Ohio Statehouse. For FirstEnergy a $61 million expenditure on Statehouse bribes produced a $1.3 billion bailout, more than a 20 to 1 return on investment.

Former House Speaker Householder was the “mastermind” behind a scheme of incredible complexity and sophistication according to the feds.

Moreover, the conspiracy was just getting started on a path of destructive corruption.

Team Householder planned a ballot issue to amend the constitution to remain in the speaker’s well for 16 years. Efforts to make sports gambling legislation into a pay-to-play bonanza were already well under way.

It took wiretaps, hundreds of subpoenas, and dozens of interviews to unravel the scheme to make all Ohio electric rate payers bailout FirstEnergy nuclear plants and coal-fired plants for the rest of the state’s electric utilities.

Prosecutors are incredulous, along with all others who realize corruption attacks the bedrock principals of democracy, that Ohio has done nothing to enact laws to protect against the sort of conspiracy Householder, Borges, and FirstEnergy created, with the assistance of unindicted co-conspirators throughout state government.

We strongly support the Justice Department request for a full 20-year prison sentence for former Speaker Householder and 5 to 8 years for former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Borges.

The Blade concluded upon their trial’s end (Editorial: “Victim is Ohio,” March 12) that only the harshest possible punishment can change “business as usual” at the Statehouse.

While we are hopeful Federal Judge Timothy Black will make deterrence of corruption in Ohio the cause for sentences that match prosecutors’ recommendations, we repeat our warning of a cynical backlash against the Justice Department if Householder and Borges are punished for accepting a bribe, but FirstEnergy executives who authorized the payments go uncharged. (Editorial: “Injustice Department?” Nov. 17)

The Justice Department notes the “wide-scale” use of the same dark-money, independent, political nonprofits by Ohio politicians and the “risk” of similar corruption. Prosecutors correctly contend this system does “immeasurable damage to the institution of democracy in Ohio.”

The best way to destroy the danger of Ohio democracy corrupted by secret corporate money is to go after the bribe-payers at FirstEnergy.

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Dirty Larry and the OEA (read on.....OEA LOVES HIM!)

From John Curry

June 30, 2023

Two time Ohio Speaker of the House of Representatives "Dirty Larry (Householder) from Perry (County)" gets sentenced today in a federal courtroom for orchestrating a nearly $61 Million illegal bribery scheme. Did you know that the OEA loves Dirty Larry? How do I know that the OEA loves Dirty Larry? Because they gave lots of money to his re-election campaigns. Gee I wonder why?

A. At least $30,207.79 worth of love! Don't believe me? Here you go....

Sunday, June 25, 2023

 Well, guess who loves Dirty Larry from Perry!

 Thanks to John Curry for this one.

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