Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. (Photo by Justin Merriman/Getty Images)
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Friday announced his office’s court request to lift a stay on discovery in the state’s civil case in the bailout bribery scandal.
The request followed the Thursday federal jury convictions of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former lobbyist and Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges for felony racketeering in the state’s billion-dollar utility bailout and political bribery scandal.
Both men face maximum sentences of 20 years in what prosecutors said was likely biggest bribery and money laundering scandal in Ohio history. U.S. District Judge Timothy Black will schedule a sentencing hearing coming sometime in the next few months.
As part of the racketeering scheme, Akron-based FirstEnergy and other utilities paid tens of millions into an effort to elect friendly lawmakers in 2018 who would vote to make Householder speaker the following year. Immediately after taking the speaker’s gavel, Householder worked furiously to pass a $1.3 billion bailout, the vast majority of which benefited FirstEnergy subsidiary FirstEnergy Services.
The company was being dragged down by losses from its nuclear and coal plants and executives were seeking a bailout. While it got more than $1 billion out of the deal, Householder got political power as well as more than $500,000 personally, jurors found. Borges played a smaller role, but he paid a $15,000 bribe to help defeat an attempt to repeal the bailout and he received more than $100,000 in funds that originated with FirstEnergy, prosecutors said.
In his Friday release, Yost clarified that his office can not bring criminal prosecution independently. There are two ways his office can act on a criminal investigation, he said: To be invited by a county prosecutor to operate under their authority, or to have a criminal investigation requested by the Ohio General Assembly.
“(The) guilty verdicts in federal court against Larry Householder and Matt Borges mark only the beginning of accountability regarding House Bill 6,” Yost said. “With the federal prosecution complete, the state of Ohio’s racketeering lawsuit, which already stopped the implementation of HB 6, should now be able to resume.”
Yost has asked Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Chris Brown to lift the stay on discovery in the state’s civil case, a pause Yost says is no longer needed now that the federal trial has concluded.
“Lifting the stay will allow us to continue collecting documents and to depose key witnesses in our ongoing effort to remedy the harm done,” he said. “Other wrongdoers in this scandal — especially and including the First Energy executives who funded the corrupt Householder Enterprise — cannot be permitted to escape scot-free.”
The discovery process may yield additional information that will reveal an expanded number of defendants who participated in the corrupt Householder Enterprise, Yost said.
Regarding criminal charges, the release from Yost said that the Ohio Attorney General has no independent prosecution authority.
“Any county prosecuting attorney can invite our office to operate under his/her authority, or the General Assembly can request the Attorney General conduct a criminal investigation, or the Governor,” the release said. “Although my office remains willing to assist, the Attorney General cannot bring criminal charges against anyone involved in this criminal enterprise on his/her own.”
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