A federal jury convicted former Ohio House of Representatives Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party chair Mathew Borges of participating in a bribery scheme of $60 million, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Thursday.
Householder, 63, and Borges, 50, were charged in 2020 in a bribery case related to a nuclear plants bailout bill passed in 2019. The legislature revoked the bill in 2021.
Prosecutors alleged that energy distributor FirstEnergy Corp gave $60 million to Generation Now, a political nonprofit operated by Householder. According to prosecutors, those funds were used for lobbying for secured passage of the $1.5 billion bill in 2019.
They alleged that Borges, then a lobbyist, sought to bribe Tyler Fehrman, an FBI operative, for inside information on the referendum to overturn the bailout law.
Householder and Borges were convicted of participating in the racketeering conspiracy, the Justice Department said in a statement on Thursday. The racketeering conspiracy charge, in this case, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Fehrman posted on Twitter after the verdicts came down.
In a phone interview, Fehrman said that the outcome proved the risk he took in wearing a wire for the FBI as part of the government’s investigation was worth it.
“For them to come back and find both of them guilty, and after not too long, is just such a relief,” he said. “It is a good day for Ohioans. This stuff just can’t continue to happen.”
FirstEnergy agreed to pay $230 million in 2021 to settle U.S. government charges in the case. It admitted it paid millions of dollars to state officials to pursue legislation on nuclear subsidies and other policies that would benefit it.
“Larry Householder illegally sold the statehouse, and thus he ultimately betrayed the great people of Ohio he was elected to serve,” U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker said on Thursday. “Matt Borges was a willing co-conspirator, who paid bribe money for insider information to assist Householder.”
The man who brought the case, Parker’s predecessor David DeVillers, wrote on Twitter: “The line between influence peddling and bribery will now be drawn by the rule of law and not by politicians, lobbyists, and corporations.”
“We are incredibly disappointed in the verdict,” Householder’s attorney Steven Bradley said. “We will take some time to evaluate all of our legal options and will most certainly pursue an appeal. Our client is looking forward to going home to be with his wife and family during this very difficult time.”
Borges did not testify at trial but insists that he’s innocent. His attorneys argued that he was uninvolved with the pay-to-play scheme, while Householder’s team portrayed his actions as nothing more than hardball politics.
Under a deal to avoid prosecution, FirstEnergy admitted using a network of dark money groups to fund the bribery scheme and even bribing the state’s top utility regulator, Sam Randazzo.
Randazzo resigned as chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio after an FBI search of his home, but he has not been charged and denies wrongdoing. The government has asked the Public Utilities Commission to delay its internal investigation into FirstEnergy while its probe continues.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.