Former House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford. Source: Ohio General Assembly.
CINCINNATI — Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder spent possibly his last moments as a free man around 2:30 p.m. Thursday and they couldn’t have been pleasant.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Black gave the Glenford Republican the maximum possible sentence of 20 years and then ordered blue-shirted U.S. Marshals to immediately take him into custody. He rose, put his hands behind his back, the marshals cuffed him and led the once-powerful pol away.
But before that humiliation, the judge blistered Householder for being the ringleader of a racketeering scandal in which Akron-based FirstEnergy paid him more than $59 million in bribes in exchange for a $1.3 billion bailout, most of which was intended to save two failing nuclear plants in Northern Ohio.
Ratepayers could have used that money for things like education, health care or to start businesses, the judge said.
“You handed that money to suits in private jets,” Black said.
The judge made the speech and imposed the sentence after saying Householder clearly perjured himself during his criminal trial, which lasted from late January until mid-March.
In it, Householder claimed to barely know FirstEnergy executives as federal prosecutors put on a mountain of evidence that Householder flew on their corporate jets, sat in their luxury boxes and dined in fancy restaurants as they plowed tens of millions of the corporation’s dollars into dark-money accounts.
“You conned the people of Ohio and you tried to con the jury, too,” Black said in his gravely voice as Householder, clad in a gray suit and red tie, slumped his bulk back in his chair.
The money from FirstEnergy and one of its subsidiaries was used to elect fellow Republicans in 2018 who would vote to make Householder speaker in early 2019. More than $500,000 of it was used to pay off Householder’s credit card bills, settle a lawsuit and to repair a house he owned in Florida.
Tens of millions more went to pass the corrupt bailout — House Bill 6 — and to fund a thuggish campaign to thwart a citizen-initiated repeal.
Earlier in the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Glatfelter said Householder used FirstEnergy’s dark money to crush a “citizen veto” and “because of this House Bill 6 remains in effect today.”
That’s also because Republican supermajorities in Ohio’s gerrymandered legislature have refused to repeal the corrupt law even after arrests were made, and as they try to make it virtually impossible for citizens to initiate amendments to the Ohio Constitution.
Also arrested in the scandal were lobbyists Juan Cespedes and Jeffrey Longstreth — who cooperated with prosecutors within days of their arrests — and Neil Clark, who died by suicide. Former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges is slated for sentencing at 11 a.m. today, Friday.
Steven Bradley, Householder’s attorney, sought leniency for his client. Referring to the possibility of a 20-year sentence, he said “That is effectively a life sentence for Larry Householder given his age and health situation.”
Householder is 64 and overweight.
Bradley argued that his client was around 60 when the racketeering conspiracy began in late 2016 and that prior to that, Householder did “innumerable” good deeds “for decades.” A 20-year sentence would “effectively give no consideration” to those good deeds, Bradley said.
But when he spoke on his own behalf, Householder appeared to do more to harm his case than to help it, just as he did at trial.
“My greatest commitment is to my creator… My next commitment is to my family,” he read from a prepared statement as he stood at the podium.
Householder said that in the course of 38 years of marriage, “I can count on one hand” the number of nights he spent away from his wife, Taundra. Householder also described the crushing pain they suffered when they lost a four-year-old daughter.
But then he pushed his claims past the point of plausibility.
He said Taundra was planning to retire from her teaching position and next year, when he turns 65, he wanted to retire as well, saying he planned to “hang up my suit and tie.”
Householder made that statement in the same courtroom where, only three months earlier, prosecutors put on testimony and displayed bank records and written messages from early 2020 that showed FirstEnergy and AEP putting money into dark money groups intended to fund an effort to change the state’s term limits so Householder could stay in office for as long as 16 more years.
The former House speaker also implied that he wanted a lenient sentence not for himself, but for his family. Taundra, he said, would be alone while “I’ll be in a cold cell hours away.”
But what might really have set Judge Black off was Householder’s profession of selfless public service.
“My life has been a total and full dedication to making life better for those I serve,” he said.
Black described voters who put out Householder yard signs, donated their hard-earned money to his campaigns, and pushed a button for him in the voting booth.
“I’m not talking about some corporation or the (former FirstEnergy CEO) Chuck Joneses of the world,” Black said. Householder’s constituents who supported him “were saying, ‘I’m choosing to trust you,’ and you betrayed that trust,” the judge said.
Black used Householder’s own words to give the lie to his claims. He quoted several recordings of Householder that were surreptitiously made during the conspiracy and played at trial.
“If you’re going to fk with me, I’m going to fk with your kids,” Householder said in one of them.
“Bottom line, you were a bully,” the judge said.
If the federal racketeering statute didn’t cap sentences for a single count at 20 years, sentencing guidelines would have recommended life for the former House speaker, Black said. One reason for that is because Householder’s use of a mountain of hidden corporate money to elect a legislature, pass an exponentially bigger bailout for the company, and to crush a citizen repeal is “an assault on democracy,” the judge said.
Black explained the special harm done by public corruption like that committed by Householder and his co-conspirators. To do so, he quoted former President Theodore Roosevelt, who ironically advocated the citizen-initiated amendment process in Ohio that Householder’s former Republican colleagues in state government are now trying to gut.
“There can be no crime more serious than bribery,” Roosevelt said in a 1903 message. “Other offenses violate one law while corruption strikes at the foundation of all law.”
When Borges, the former GOP chair, is sentenced today, it’s unclear what he’ll face. His involvement in the conspiracy was considerably less than Householder’s, but Judge Black showed that he’s not much in the mood for leniency when it comes to Ohio’s corrupt political culture.
Also uncertain is when — or if — others might be charged.
Former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones and Vice President Micheal Dowling — as well as former FirstEnergy Solutions President John Kiani — directed the flood of corporate dollars into the Householder-controlled dark money groups, according to prosecutors.
And FirstEnergy admitted in a deferred prosecution agreement that it paid a $4.3 million bribe to Sam Randazzo just as Gov. Mike DeWine was appointing him to chair the Public Utilities Commission. Randazzo the helped draft the corrupt bailout law, according to trial testimony.
On the steps of the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse just after the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker was asked when or whether those men or others might be charged.
“We continue to look through evidence and we continue to listen to recordings and speak to individuals, so if something’s there we’re going to go there, too, and address it,” he said.