Ex-Ohio House Speaker Denies Dinner With FirstEnergy Executives

CINCINNATI (AP) – Former Ohio Republican House Speaker Larry Householder directly contradicted FBI testimony in a corruption trial Wednesday, taking …

CINCINNATI (AP) — Former Ohio Republican House Speaker Larry Householder has directly contradicted FBI testimony his corruption trial On Wednesday, took the stand for the first time to deny attending a series of lavish dinners in Washington, D.C., where prosecutors say he and executives at Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. masterminded a $60 million bribery scheme in 2017.

Householder, 63, appeared relaxed and confident during his first day of testimony, setting the stage by describing his life in a rural Ohio county, his early days as a political outsider and his journey to becoming speaker. His wife of 38 years, Tawndra, sat across from him in the gallery.

The trial continues into its fifth week before a jury and U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black in Cincinnati.

Householder and Matt Borges, 50, a lobbyist and former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, were charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and money laundering. Federal prosecutors allege that Householder oversaw a scheme secretly funded by FirstEnergy to elect allies, win the speakership, pass a $1 billion nuclear plant bailout and that Borges tried to bribe an employee with inside information on the referendum to overturn it. Both pleaded not guilty and maintain their innocence. Each of them faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Householder told jurors that he devised a strategy to recruit large numbers of like-minded Republican candidates and organize expensive operations to help them all get elected at once, which required raising large sums of money. But he denied demanding loyalty oaths from his recruits or demanding promises to vote a certain way.

“I was really looking for people who are independent,” he said.

Three of Householder’s former caucus members testified last week that he pressured them to vote for the bill, and texts were produced in which Householder appeared to express anger at the disloyalty.

Assistant Jeff Longstreth, mid Four other individuals and a group of dark money have been charged in the scheme, testified for the prosecution that Householder wanted “coffin bearers,” people so faithful that they would carry his coffin on the day of his funeral. Householder told jurors that the “casket carriers” were just friends, and that a longtime politician like himself didn’t need any more enemies.

In another rebuttal to earlier allegations, Householder said he never gave State House super-lobbyist Neil Clark, a co-defendant who committed suicide in 2021, a “power of attorney” to act on his behalf. The former speaker laughed at this proposal.

“I am not giving up my right to speak for myself,” he said.

During a conversation with two undercover FBI agents posing as developers, Clark referred to himself as Householder’s “confidant.” He went on to detail Householder’s use of dark money groups to conceal campaign contributions. The landlord’s lawyers said Clark was exaggerating.

Perhaps the most telling exchange of the day was when Householder described his trip to Republican President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. He talked about flying to Washington on a FirstEnergy plane, then detailed his weekend activities—photos, cocktails, balls, parades, a concert with his son, and pizza with his “addicted” wife.

Missing from the account were several dinners that longstreth, the Generation Now dark-money executive, had hosted with then-FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones, vice president Michael Dowling and others, according to previous filings. The owner said that he had not been to such dinners. He said he saw Jones on the plane flights to the inauguration, then over the weekend only at a “packed” house party hosted by media consultant Rex Elsass, and perhaps once more in passing. When asked if he attended the dinners, Householder simply replied, “No” or “I wasn’t.”

Earlier in the trial, FBI agent Blaine Wetzel reviewed internal Generation Now and FirstEnergy documents, phone records, emails and other documents that showed Jones, Dowling and Householder were part of an eight-person group that met three times in D.C. on the occasion of Trump’s inauguration. weekend

About two weeks later, Longstreth opened a bank account for Generation Now, through which FirstEnergy admitted to a settlement to avoid prosecution that provided millions in bribes to help pass the relief bill. That same day, Longstreth emailed Dowling “connection instructions” for FirstEnergy to deposit money into the account. The usual $250,000 started rolling in.

Longstreth and Generation Now pleaded guilty to participating in the bribery scheme, as did a third man, Juan Cespedes, who testified last week. Clark pleaded not guilty.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, Householder’s cross-examination had not yet begun.

Earlier in the day, State House lobbyist Robert Klefky testified that he was present at a meeting where a $400,000 check from his client FirstEnergy Solutions was given to Householder in an envelope. Klafki said he doesn’t remember what was said at the meeting, but he’s sure he didn’t witness a pay game.

Klefky said he was already an insider and adviser to Householder before he took on FirstEnergy Solutions, a subsidiary that owned two nuclear plants, as a client and wanted him to be a speaker.

Borges’ attorney, Carl Schneider, said he expects his client to take the stand as well.

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