Ohio House speaker, four others charged in $60 million bribery case

(Reuters) – Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican, and four other men with ties to state politics were arrested on Tuesday in a $60 million federal bribery case, in one of the largest corruption cases in the state’s history, a U.S. prosecutor said.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio David DeVillers said during a news conference that the five men were charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering, accused of a bribery scheme involving a nuclear power company that sought $1.5 billion in bailout legislation passed in 2019.

Former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges and longtime Householder adviser Jeff Longstreth along with lobbyists Juan Cespedes and Neil Clark were also charged, DeVillers said.

Borges recently founded a Republican-backed anti-Trump superPAC called RightSide.

DeVillers did not identify the power company involved in the scheme, but FirstEnergy Corp (FE.N), which was seeking a state bailout for its nuclear plants, matched his description.

The company, DeVillers said, gave $60 million to Generation Now, a chartable organization operated by the five men. The money was then used to get the legislation passed, defeat a ballot incentive against the measure through bribery and line their pockets, he said.

DeVillers said it was likely the largest bribery, money-laundering scheme in state history.

“These allegations were bribery pure and simple. … This was pay to play,” DeVillers said.

Shares in the company, which spun off its bankrupt power generating subsidiary, were down 17% on Tuesday at the close of trading.

Republican Ohio Governor Mike DeWine called for Householder to resign immediately.

“This is a sad day for Ohio,” DeWine said in a statement.

Householder’s office was not immediately available for comment.

FBI agents and local authorities were at Householder’s farmhouse early Tuesday in Perry County, just east of Columbus, the state’s capital city, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

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