Former Statehouse lawmakers testify in Ohio bailout and bribery racketeering trial
Left to right: Former lawmaker Laura Lanese, former lobbyist Jeff Longstreth, and former lawmaker Dave Greenspan. Photo illustration by WEWS.
The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
The federal corruption trial against former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder has had major Statehouse players in court.
Here is a brief update on the most significant details their testimony last week.
Householder is accused of accepting a nearly $61 million bribe in exchange for legislation, House Bill 6, that would provide a $1.3 billion bailout to FirstEnergy and other utility companies. Householder and former GOP lobbyist Borges have a combined trial and have both pleaded not guilty.
House operative Jeff Longstreth and FirstEnergy Solutions lobbyist Juan Cespedes pleaded guilty have finished their testimony. Longtime lobbyist Neil Clark died by suicide outside his Florida home after pleading not guilty to racketeering.
FirstEnergy already confessed to bribing Householder to help its failing corporation.
Longstreth and half a mill to spend
Former Householder staffer Jeff Longstreth was instrumental in the $60 million racketeering scheme, according to the FBI. This was confirmed by the aide when he confessed.
“I pleaded guilty to racketeering,” Longstreth told jurors. “I handled the money. By doing, that I facilitated everything else that happened because of that.”
His testimony can be damning, Case Western Reserve criminal law professor Michael Benza said.
“The government can show the paper trail and the money trail without having anybody on the inside,” Benza said. “But in order to prove the crime, they have to show what everybody knew the money was about — and that takes somebody on the inside.”
Longstreth’s guilty plea and testimony against the former speaker focused on $500,000 that the coconspirator “gave” to Householder. This then sparked a debate about if it was a loan, a gift or just plain corruption.
Longstreth explained that money came from what was supposed to be campaign funds, but was then used for personal needs of the former speaker.
This testimony could demolish the defense’s argument that having millions in funds from businesses is commonplace at the Statehouse, Benza added.
“When you take money as a campaign contribution and you’re fixing your house or you’re buying a new car or you’re doing these other things, it’s hard to say that’s politics as usual,” he said.
Under cross-examination, Longstreth said his sentence could be from 0-6 months in prison with his plea deal.
This opens up the defense for a good argument, Case Western Reserve University constitutional law expert Jonathan Entin said.
“They’ve admitted that they were bad actors,” Entin said, acting as though he is the defense attorney. “We agreed they were bad actors, but that doesn’t make the other defendants bad actors. It just makes them ‘other people.'”
Longstreth wasn’t the only big name who testified
Former state Rep. Laura Lanese took to the stand to explain the pressure she was under to support House Bill 6. She recalled she lost sleep for months but refused to vote for it. She ended up losing her position on a committee following the vote.
According to the FBI, former GOP lawmaker Dave Greenspan actually got the investigation started. Greenspan was concerned about the ethics around H.B. 6, and while at a Bob Evans with the lead agent Blane Wetzel, the lawmaker got a text from Householder asking him to delete all previous texts.
Greenspan started his testimony Thursday, saying he called the FBI to report Larry Householder. With Wetzel, he got a text from Householder asking for his vote on H.B. 6 nuclear bailout. He said no, which then lead to Householder threatening him.
Pat Tully, a former Householder policy staffer who still works in energy policy and appears around the Statehouse, testified as well. He was the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio’s senior policy advisor. FirstEnergy lobbyist Ty Pine forwarded Tully’s resume to Longstreth. Soon after, he joined the Householder brigade and worked to draft the legislation with PUCO chairman Sam Randazzo. Randazzo has been dripping in controversy for years.
Householder’s alleged coercion techniques have clouded the trial, despite them not being illegal, Benza said.
“The fact that there are aspects of intimidation, bullying, threats outright… ‘do this or I will kill your career type of thing,’ — that in and of itself, again, isn’t an issue of public corruption,” the professor said. “Where it crosses over is when you start doing those next steps.”
Those next steps — exchanging money for a policy — on the taxpayer’s dime.
Once again, the defense attorneys for Householder have yelled about bias.
“You’ve been tying our hands, overruling every objection…Not allowing us to try our case,” Mark Marein yelled in court. “Is there something personal about Mr. Householder?
Judge Black ignored his remarks, responding: “Anything further?”
OCJ/WEWS analyzed the previous few times the attorneys have been upset. Read more below.
More star-studded testimony is expected.
Attorney General Dave Yost and current state Rep. Scott Lipps have been subpoenaed, as were former state Reps. Jay Hottinger and Kyle Koehler.
Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.
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