On behalf of the members of the Ohio House, I want to thank Rev. Marcus…
State Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, the ranking minority party member of the Ohio House panel considering legislation to deal with the nuclear bailout law, said in an emailed statement Thursday that the pleas “affirmed what was already widely accepted to be true — that a crime was committed in the passage of HB 6.”
But it’s little comfort to Ohioans to hear about criminal convictions while the product of those crimes, legislation taking over $1 billion out of their pockets and giving it to energy corporations, is still law today because of Republican leadership. Ohioans won’t have justice until this law is off the books — and Republican leadership is the only thing standing in the way.”
Marc Kovac The Columbus Dispatch
Two of the five people charged in the $60 million federal corruption scandal involving former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder struck plea deals with prosecutors Thursday.
Juan Cespedes made his appearance electronically early Thursday afternoon before U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black. Jeffrey Longstreth did the same about an hour later in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.
The two are now free to testify against the remaining trio of defendants: Householder, longtime lobbyist Neil Clark and former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges.
The five were charged in July with felony racketeering counts in what prosecutors ranked as among the largest public corruption scandals in state history. It centered on allegations that Householder and others used dark money from FirstEnergy and related entities to bankroll the campaigns of his supporters and block referendum efforts to overturn House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout law.
“There’s a lot more shoes to drop and there’s a lot of nervous people today. I don’t know who they are, but they do,” said Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper.
“It’s no secret we believe the culture of corruption is absolutely overwhelming in Columbus now. Them turning state witness will lead to more information down the road about how far this plot went.”
Meanwhile, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said Thursday’s development aids his civil litigation over the HB 6 mess.
“Today’s guilty pleas by Longstreth & Cespedes move the HB6 racketeering scandal from allegation to admitted fact. The only remaining question: “who else?” My team, including a forensic accountant, is going through the first batch of documents in our civil racketeering lawsuit,” the Republican said.
Black opened Thursday’s initial hearing by saying, “Mr. Cespedes is prepared today to take responsibility for his criminal conduct.”
Both planned to plead guilty to single counts of racketeer-influenced and corrupt organizations, or RICO, conspiracy, felonies that carry potential sentences of up to 20 years and fines up to $250,000, plus potential additional restitution and forfeiture, according to court documents.
Black said he planned to hold off on sentencing until the proceedings against other defendants in the case are completed.
“The calculation of the guidelines and the ultimate sentence is my decision and my decision alone,” Black said. “So, when you come back for sentencing, which will be way down the road, it will be my responsibility to fashion a sentence that is sufficient and not greater than necessary to accomplish the purposes of sentencing.”
As part of the plea agreements, Longstreth admitted to participating in the organization and management of Generation Now, the nonprofit group purportedly “organized exclusively for the promotion of social welfare and economic development purposes.”
Investigators say the group was incorporated in the state of Delaware by Longstreth but ultimately controlled by Householder. It also was not required to disclose its donors.
Longstreth acknowledged that he “engaged in financial transactions that were designed to conceal the nature, source, ownership and control of payments” made by what is believed to be FirstEnergy to the group and that those payments, of $10,000-plus, were “passed through accounts controlled by Longstreth and others.”
Longstreth signed the plea and facts statement last Friday.
In a separate statement of facts signed Oct. 6, Cespedes admitted his participation in the larger conspiracy, orchestrating Generation Now payments “in return for specific official action by Householder relating to the passage and preservation of legislation that would go into effect and save the operation of two nuclear power plants in Ohio” and to block the ballot campaign to overturn the $1 billion bailout for the plants in HB 6.
A source close to the investigation declined to comment on the extent of the pair’s cooperation or whether they would testify against Householder and the others. The plea deals do require both defendants to testify truthfully.
“If you have information related to the public corruption alleged in this case, please contact the FBI at 513-421-4310,” U.S. Attorney David M. DeVillers said in a released statement following Thursday’s guilty pleas. “This investigation remains ongoing….”
The bailout passed by narrow margins in the legislature in July 2019, but efforts to repeal and/or replace it in the three-plus months since the five were indicted have stalled — bringing harsh criticism from Democrats in both the GOP-dominated House and Senate.
State Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, the ranking minority party member of the Ohio House panel considering legislation to deal with the nuclear bailout law, said in an emailed statement Thursday that the pleas “affirmed what was already widely accepted to be true — that a crime was committed in the passage of HB 6.
“But it’s little comfort to Ohioans to hear about criminal convictions while the product of those crimes, legislation taking over $1 billion out of their pockets and giving it to energy corporations, is still law today because of Republican leadership. Ohioans won’t have justice until this law is off the books — and Republican leadership is the only thing standing in the way.”
Asked about the impending pleas, Steve Bradley, Householder’s attorney, said, “We’re just starting to look into the details of it and really can’t comment further than that.”
Clark said: “Both men are young with many years to rebuild their lives. Both men are doing the right thing.
“I met with the Justice department exactly one week after my arrest. I refused to plead guilty to any charge. I chose writing the book instead. That will be my legacy. I wish them both nothing but best and the strength and courage keep their heads up high as they go forward.”
FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young said Thursday that the company “does not have a comment at this time.”
Reporters Jessie Balmert of the Cincinnati Enquirer and Randy Ludlow of The Dispatch contributed to this story.