Former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder arrives for day two of his racketeering trial. Photo by Morgan Trau, WEWS.

BY: MARTY SCHLADEN – Ohio Capital Journal

CINCINNATI — A federal court trial over allegations of epic public corruption has been interrupted at least until Monday after a juror was diagnosed with COVID on Wednesday.

“The Court was advised this afternoon that a juror has tested positive for COVID-19,” U.S. District Judge Timothy Black wrote in an order Wednesday evening. “In an effort to ensure everyone’s safety, jury trial will not convene for the duration of the week. The recess is CONTINUED until Monday, 1/30/2023 at 9:30 a.m.”

In the trial, former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and lobbyist Matt Borges are accused of racketeering. 

Householder is accused of masterminding a scheme in which $61 million — mostly from Akron-based FirstEnergy — was used to help elect Republican lawmakers who would make Householder speaker in 2019. In exchange, prosecutors say, Householder shepherded through a $1.3 billion utility bailout package and then protected it from a ballot initiative intended to repeal the measure.

Borges is accused of acting corruptly in the successful effort to block the repeal.

The great majority of the ratepayer money was intended to prop up two failing nuclear plants in Northern Ohio owned by FirstEnergy subsidiary FirstEnergy Services. Some went to “recession proof” coal-fired plants owned by the subsidiary that FirstEnergy management regarded as unsellable. 

Even though the law was billed as a “clean air” measure, the rest of the package went to subsidize coal plants owned by utilities other than FirstEnergy — including a plant that’s not even in Ohio. Of the three tranches of subsidies, that is the only one that’s still in effect after FirstEnergy entered into a deferred-prosecution agreement.

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He’s won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.

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