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Ohio public corruption cases could be kicked to home counties for prosecution under GOP-backed bill

Laura A. Bischoff The Columbus Dispatch

As Ohio faces the biggest public corruption case in the nation, Republican lawmakers are moving to change where future scandals may be prosecuted.

House Bill 286 was amended Tuesday to allow those charged with public corruption to be tried in their home counties. Currently, most of those cases, if they are charged under state law, are handled by the Franklin County Prosecutor.

“It’s curious that after more than 60 years of GOP control, now Franklin County has a Democratic prosecutor—one who could actually prosecute public corruption crimes at the Statehouse—House Republicans decide to change the rules. Why should we let those accused of public corruption get to pick their own prosecutor?” said state Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus.

Former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, and four others have been charged in U.S. District Court with racketeering. Federal prosecutors allege that more than $60 million in bribes passed through dark money groups in exchange for a $1.3 billion bailout bill that would help Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp.

Householder has pleaded not guilty.

The change was added to House Bill 286 over Democrats’ objections in the House Civil Justice Committee.

“It is simply an attempt by officeholders to avoid responsibility for illegal conduct,” said Franklin County Prosecutor Gary Tyack, a Democrat, said in an interview. 

In committee, state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, said the change mimicked one in Texas, which passed in 2015 and allowed officials to avoid Austin prosecutors when facing corruption charges.

“That was the origin of it and we’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do it,” said Seitz, the primary sponsor of the bill.

The idea has been floating around the Statehouse for several years. Former Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, a Republican ousted by Tyack, opposed the change.

Jessie Balmert and Anna Staver contributed to this report.

Read the original article here.

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