Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and ex-Ohio Republican Party Chair Matthew Borges have been found guilty in a racketeering conspiracy involving nearly $60 million in bribes and a $1.3 billion bailout for two nuclear plants. Federal prosecutors termed it the largest corruption case in the state's history.
"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 in a press release Thursday. "Matt Borges was a willing co-conspirator, who paid bribe money for insider information to assist Householder."
In the verdict that came after seven weeks of the trial and nine hours of deliberations, a federal jury found the two guilty of participating in the racketeering scheme, saying "they should be held accountable." Householder and Borges were charged with maximum prison sentences of 20 years each for their roles in the scheme, CBS News reported.
Householder contradicted the FBI testimony and denied attending expensive Washington dinners with utility company FirstEnergy's executives, where he devised the bribery scheme in 2017, according to prosecutors.
After leaving the courthouse, Householder said he was surprised by the verdict because "I'm not guilty."
"I respect their decision but I don't agree with it," Householder told reporters.
Householder is "most certainly" to appeal the decision, his lawyer Steven Bradley said, reported NYTimes. "Larry is looking forward to going home after a long seven-week trial and spending time with his wife and family."
Borges, 50, also claimed he was innocent. "This fight is not over as far as I'm concerned. We're looking at our appeal options right now. Honestly, I didn't think we would need to be considering those," he said.
Householder was accused of orchestrating a scheme secretly funded by a nuclear energy company between March 2017 and March 2020, in which millions of dollars were traded in bribery campaign donations to pass a nuclear bailout bill, known as House Bill 6. While the FBI didn't officially identify the name of the nuclear energy company, the Justice Department pointed out that Akron-based FirstEnergy Corporation agreed to pay a $230 million fine for "conspiring to bribe public officials."
Borges, a lobbyist at the time, was accused of bribing a GOP operative for inside information on the ballot initiative to block the nuclear bailout.
The verdict comes nearly 2.5 years after Householder, Borges and three others involved in the case were arrested in 2020. While Householder was dismissed from his post as speaker following his arrest, he was re-elected to the post after his indictment. In June 2021, he was expelled by the Ohio House in a 75-21 vote.