Householder attorneys: Biased judge, overzealous prosecutors led to corruption conviction

Ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder walks into the Potter Stewart Federal Courthouse in Cincinnati where he was sentenced after being convicted of corruption charges on  June 29, 2023.
Ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder walks into the Potter Stewart Federal Courthouse in Cincinnati where he was sentenced after being convicted of corruption charges on June 29, 2023.
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Ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder did nothing wrong and his corruption conviction should be overturned, his attorneys argued in an appeal.

Householder's attorneys said the former top House Republican faced overzealous prosecutors and a biased judge intent on turning legal campaign contributions into a sweeping criminal scheme.

"This case is just the latest in a long line of cases in which federal prosecutors have overstepped the limits of their authority," wrote Householder's attorneys Steven Bradley and Nick Oleski in a nearly 100-page appeal filed late Monday.

Householder was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2023 for trading campaign contributions from Akron-based FirstEnergy for legislation that bailed out two nuclear plants. The trial revealed Householder's bare-knuckled form of fundraising and politics.

But Householder's attorneys contend that prosecutors never proved Householder engaged in quid pro quo, and jurors received faulty instructions about what was required to convict the former lawmaker.

"The government’s evidence showed that energy companies, like FirstEnergy and FES (FirstEnergy Solutions), contributed campaign funds to support Householder, who was known to be a supporter of Ohio utility companies and who eventually helped pass House Bill 6," they wrote. "(S)imply showing meetings, contributions, and official actions are not enough to win convictions."

Other issues raised by Householder's lawyers include:

  • Jurors should not have heard damaging recordings where Householder used expletives to describe his political rivals. "It was irrelevant and prejudicial for the jury to hear that Householder wanted to “f— over” (speaker candidate) Ryan Smith’s donors or that he was “going to f— with your kids.”

  • Jurors should not have learned that two co-defendants, FirstEnergy Solutions lobbyist Juan Cespedes and Householder political strategist Jeff Longstreth, had pleaded guilty.

  • U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black should have recused himself from the case because Householder twice opposed Black's bids for the Ohio Supreme Court. During the trial, Householder's team accused Black of tying their hands by overruling so many of their objections.

  • Ex-Ohio Republican Party leader Matt Borges did not bribe political operative Tyler Fehrman for insider details about a campaign to block the nuclear bailout because Fehrman's employer was not harmed.

  • Black should not have cast doubt on the testimony of Householder's witness, lobbyist Bob Klaffky. Householder's attorneys contend Klaffky's testimony was consistent with what he told reporters − even if prosecutors disagreed.

  • Black incorrectly calculated the sum of any bribe, leading to a disproportionately long sentence for Householder.

  • Black unilaterally dismissed a juror who had not received a COVID-19 test and declined to wear a mask. The juror also could not serve after a certain date.

Householder's attorneys asked for a new trial, a new sentence or for the case to be dismissed entirely. Federal prosecutors will respond to the concerns that Householder's attorneys raised in a future filing.

Householder Appeal by Jessie Balmert on Scribd

Ohio Democrats ask prosecutors to probe DeWine-Husted administration

Top Democrats in the Ohio Legislature are asking U.S. Attorney Ken Parker to dig into what Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted knew about the House Bill 6 scandal and their pick for Sam Randazzo to lead the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in 2019.

"The latest news reports highlight additional issues within government that only your office in its objective position and resources could investigate," wrote Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio and House Minority Leader Allison Russo.

DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said the letter is insulting to the work federal investigators have been doing.

"Any allegation or innuendo that they've not been looking into this issue thoroughly is a disservice and disrespectful to the U.S. Attorney's Office," Tierney said. "It's disrespectful to the law enforcement professionals who have been spending the last few years working hard to obtain convictions for those who've engaged in public corruption."

Democrats have introduced several bills to allow refunds if utilities illegally charge customers, to change how Ohio picks utility regulators and to increase transparency on how dark money is spent. But none of those ideas have received votes.

PUCO reopens investigations into FirstEnergy

Last week, the PUCO announced it would move forward with several investigations into whether FirstEnergy's illegal activities ended up on Ohioans' bills. These probes had been on hold since August 2022 at the federal prosecutor's request.

"We look forward to a full and fair process at the PUCO to give consumers long-awaited answers about the rates they were charged as a result of the HB 6 scandal," Ohio Consumers' Counsel Maureen Willis said in a statement.

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Ex-Ohio Speaker Larry Householder appeals his corruption conviction