2021 In Review: HB6 Became "Largest Corruption Scandal In Ohio History"
This year the saga behind the nuclear bailout bribery scandal unfolded like a high-stakes drama. A leading lawmaker was kicked out of office, explosive new details were revealed, and a defendant died by suicide. The Statehouse News Bureau takes a look back at 2021 as Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow follows the fallout of what’s been called the largest corruption scandal in Ohio history.
The big question going into 2021 was whether Republican former Speaker Larry Householder would stay in the Ohio House as a representative, after winning re-election despite facing federal racketeering charges.
Talks of expulsion finally picked up in June when Democrats and Republicans issued a measures to have Householder removed. During a floor debate on the resolution, Householder maintained his innocence.
"I have not, nor have I ever took a bribe or provided a bribe. I have not nor have I ever solicited a bribe. And I have not nor have I ever sold legislation, never, ever."
Householder is accused of running a $61 million bribery scheme that funneled money from FirstEnergy to a dark money group that eventually landed in Householder's pocket or with his political allies. In return, prosecutors say Householder passed a $1 billion nuclear power plant bailout.
Republican Rep. Brian Stewart countered accusations that the move to expel Householder was a witch hunt by arguing that the mere presence of the federal allegations against Householder was enough to be considered disorderly conduct.
"The Ohio Constitution specifically authorizes us to expel a member for disorderly conduct and so the remedy sought by this resolution is, unquestionably, constitutional."
Householder was one of three defendants who pleaded not guilty to the charges. The other two were former FirstEnergy lobbyist and ex-Republican party chair Matt Borges, and big time lobbyist Neil Clark. Clark was found dead along a trail in Florida in March and his death was ruled a suicide.
While the federal criminal case played out, other civil suits were filed alleging FirstEnergy of wrongdoing. And lawmakers started to repeal portions of the sweeping energy law at the center of the bribery case, resulting in repeals of the nuclear power subsidies and other policies beneficial to FirstEnergy. And then…a bombshell.
"I'm here today to announce the filing of criminal charges against FirstEnergy corporation."
U.S. Attorney Vipal Patel announced a deferred prosecution agreement with FirstEnergy admitting to its role in a multimillion dollar bribery scheme to pass a nuclear power plant bailout, and paying a settlement of $230 million.
That agreement included an admission that FirstEnergy paid Sam Randazzo a $4 million bribe before he took over as chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, in return for preferential treatment.
Randazzo, who stepped down as chair in November of 2020 after federal agents raided his home, has maintained he’s innocent and has not been charged with a crime.
The details from FirstEnergy’s plea deal sparked action from a pair of House Democrats who used the information to turn up the heat on Gov. Mike DeWine's administration. Jeff Crossman and Casey Weinstein submitted several records requests and held as many press conferences to call on more accountability from the governor's office.
"I feel like we are very far from accountability for them when everyday they're on the hook for huge elements of this law that we are still living under."
DeWine's office says the insinuations laid out by Crossman and Weinstein "lack basis in reality or fact."
New FirstEnergy CEO Steve Strah says he's ready to put the company's scandal in the rear view mirror, after implementing several accountability initiatives. However, the stage is set for the drama to continue in 2022 with Householder and Borges preparing for trial.