Today, they share tattered careers and future worries as prosecutors continue to investigate former FirstEnergy Corp. CEO Chuck Jones’ involvement in a $60 million bribery scheme secretly funded by the company to win a $1 billion legislative bailout for the plants and potentially hundreds of millions more in annual revenue guarantees for its three Ohio electric companies. Former House Speaker Larry Householder, who shepherded the bailout bill through the Legislature with FirstEnergy money, is now a political pariah facing a federal racketeering charge.
The other was a former House speaker seeking to fully restore his political power after more than a decade on the sidelines. They shared similarities as well, both large men in size and personality, skilled at glad-handing and cajoling, and, when necessary, dealing with those who stood in their way.
Jones was fired in October along with two senior vice presidents. Householder lost his speakership and later his House seat.
“This is likely the largest bribery, money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio,” then-U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said when the scheme was revealed last year. “This was bribery, plain and simple. This was a quid pro quo. This was pay to play.” Prosecutors have accused Householder of benefiting from the scheme, using nearly a half million dollars of secret FirstEnergy money on his 2018 House reelection campaign, toward his Florida home and on legal fees.
Householder appears to have readily embraced a plan audacious in both size and scope that worked to near perfection until the FBI and federal prosecutors intervened. The courtship between the two men appears to have begun in earnest in 2017 when Householder, newly returned to his House seat, accompanied FirstEnergy executives on a company plane to President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January. Householder was selected speaker in January 2019 thanks to supportive legislators elected the previous year using millions in hidden FirstEnergy dollars. The campaign help was funneled through dark money groups not required to disclose their donors.
The nuclear bailout and revenue guarantee was approved by the Legislature that July and was immediately signed into law. Around $38 million in FirstEnergy money was spent to keep a referendum sought by opponents of the bill off the ballot. The Legislature has since repealed the nuclear plant portion of the legislation while FirstEnergy agreed to no longer collect the revenue guarantee in a settlement with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. The scheme was disassembled further last week when Jones’ successor at FirstEnergy signed a “statement of facts” laying out in granular detail Jones’ and Householder’s roles as the company sought to avoid prosecution on a federal conspiracy charge.
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