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Prosecutors say Ohio House leader helped pass energy bailout in exchange for $61 million in bribes

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R) helped pass a controversial nuclear bailout bill in exchange for almost $61 million in bribes, federal prosecutors said Tuesday as they announced racketeering charges against the official.

"Make no mistake, these allegations are bribery, pure and simple," David DeVillers, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, said at a press conference. "This was quid pro quo, this was pay to play."

Householder, his aide Jeff Longstreth, former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges and lobbyists Neil Clark and Juan Cespedes were all arrested and charged in federal court on Tuesday.

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Householder could not be reached for comment. It's unclear if any of the defendants have obtained lawyers.

The alleged scheme was aimed at passing Ohio's House Bill 6, which was signed into law a year ago. The bill tacked on a surcharge for energy consumers to raise a bailout worth more than $1 billion for two unprofitable nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions.

According to court documents, FirstEnergy began paying a nonprofit controlled by Householder $250,000 quarterly payments in 2017, amid his second term in the state legislature. The money was allegedly used to enhance Householder's political power, fund advocacy behind House Bill 6 and line the pockets of the officials and lobbyists involved in the scheme.

FirstEnergy was referred to as "Company A" and none of its officials were charged. DeVillers said that he could not refer to the company by name but admitted that it was obvious which business the indictment was referring to.

FirstEnergy released a statement saying it had received subpoenas Tuesday afternoon relating to the investigation and vowed to cooperate fully with law enforcement.

Three months after Householder started his second term as speaker, House Bill 6 was introduced, and it passed into law in July 2019. The company increased its payments to an entity controlled by Householder, who used the money to help fund a messaging campaign around the bill and also dipped into it for personal use.

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FirstEnergy poured another $38 million into the nonprofit called Generation Now in order to help defeat a ballot initiative aimed at stopping HB 6 from taking effect.

DeVillers said on Tuesday that of the $61 million, about half a million went to line Householder's personal pockets. That includes about $300,000 that he used to settle a lawsuit against him and $100,000 for costs from his home in Florida.

In 2018, Householder used the Generation Now fund to support 21 candidates for the state legislature. All of the recipients in the House voted to elect Householder speaker and only one of them voted against House Bill 6.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who signed the measure into law but was not implicated in the scheme, according to DeVillers, called on Householder to resign on Tuesday.

“I am deeply concerned about the allegations of wrongdoing in the criminal complaint issued today by the U.S. Attorney’s Office," DeWine said in a statement. "Every American has the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Because of the nature of these charges, it will be impossible for Speaker Householder to effectively lead the Ohio House of Representatives; therefore, I am calling on Speaker Householder to resign immediately."

DeVillers said on Tuesday that the federal investigation into the scheme is ongoing and hinted that there could be more indictments in the future.

"We are not done with this case," he said. "There are going to be a lot of busy FBI agents and [assistant U.S. attorneys] here in the Southern District of Ohio."