The Republican speaker of Ohio’s House of Representatives was arrested by federal officials Tuesday on charges connected to a $60 million bribery scheme.
Larry Householder and four other political operatives were charged with racketeering in what US Attorney David DeVillers described as “likely the largest bribery money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio.”
“Make no mistake, these allegations are bribery. Pure and simple,” DeVillers said in a news conference. “This was pay-to-play. I use the term pay-to-play because that’s the term they’ve used as alleged in the affidavit.”
A criminal complaint filed on Thursday and unsealed on Tuesday specifically alleges that Householder and four others orchestrated an operation to accept over $60 million dollars from “Company A” in return for a public bailout for the company worth more than $1 billion.
While the complaint does not name “Company A,” prosecutors indicate at numerous points that the company is FirstEnergy Corp. –including citations to news articles that mention the company by name.
The company told CNN in a statement Tuesday they have “received subpoenas in connection” with the investigation.
“We are reviewing the details of the investigation and we intend to fully cooperate,” FirstEnergy Corp. said.
CNN has reached out to Householder’s office for comment.
Extensive racketeering conspiracy
The charges against Householder were laid out in an extensive complaint that detailed a broad criminal operation involving wire fraud, receipt of millions of dollars in bribes and money laundering.
Householder – along with four associates- took in millions of dollars from FirstEnergy Corp. in exchange for help in passing House Bill 6, a billion-dollar bailout that saved two nuclear power plants operated by the company.
Prosecutors allege the scheme started when one of the associates incorporated “Generation Now” as a social welfare entity in 2017. It was secretly controlled by Householder, who received quarterly payments of $250,000 into the bank account of the entity, according to prosecutors.
The defendants then spent large sums of money on Householder’s bid to become speaker and for their own personal gain.
In all, Householder received more than $400,000 in personal benefits as a result of the payments into “Generation Now,” the Department of Justice said in a news release. These funds were used to pay for costs associated with his residence in Florida, settle a personal lawsuit and pay off thousands of dollars of credit card debt.
“All forms of public corruption are unacceptable,” FBI Cincinnati Special Agent in Charge Chris Hoffman said in a statement.
“When the corruption is alleged to reach some of the highest levels of our state government, the citizens of Ohio should be shocked and appalled.”
News of the charges was met with swift condemnation Tuesday, with many political figures in the state calling on Householder to resign from his post.
“I am deeply concerned about the allegations of wrongdoing issued today by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Every American has the presumption of innocence until proven guilty,” Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tweeted.
“Because of the nature of these charges, it will be impossible for Speaker Householder to effectively lead the Ohio House of Representatives; therefore, I am calling on Speaker Householder to resign immediately,” he continued. “This is a sad day for Ohio.”
That message was echoed by Ohio Secretary of State Frank Larose who tweeted, “There is important work for the state legislature to do on behalf of the people of Ohio. That work can’t get done with the Speaker under arrest in an ongoing federal investigation.”
“@HouseholderOH, do the right thing for the people of our state and resign today,” he said.
Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken similarly cast the charges as cause for Householder to resign.
“Greed, lust for power, and disdain for ethical boundaries are not unique to any particular political party,” Timken said in a statement.
“If our country is going to endure these difficult and divisive times, we must unite in the notion that people who break the law should be held accountable.”
Householder’s district includes parts of the state east of Columbus. He was first elected to the state House in 1996 and served until 2004, when he left office due to term limits, according to his official biography, which says he had also served as House speaker during that time. He was elected back to the chamber in 2017.
This story has been updated with additional information Tuesday.