Federal prosecutors focus on Borges, House Bill 6 'fight' in corruption trial
The prosecution presented text messages in a federal court room Friday that showed Larry Householder telling FirstEnergy to get “ready for a fight” over House Bill 6 as the legislation was working its way through the legislature.
Householder, Republican former Ohio House speaker, and Matt Borges, a former FirstEnergy lobbyist, are accused of playing a role in a $61 million bribery scheme to help FirstEnergy pass a nuclear power plant bailout
Emily Glatfelter, assistant U.S. attorney, presented the documents through Blane Wetzel — the FBI special agent who has been on the stand for the prosecution for five days.
Wetzel obtained the different emails and text messages during the FBI’s investigation.
Householder calls on FirstEnergy to get ‘ready for a fight’
A text from Householder on April 23, 2019 to then-FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones said “I hope FES [FirstEnergy Solutions] is ready for a fight because the first shot was fired last night.”
The conversation went on to discuss the opposition that was mounting against House Bill 6 — a nuclear power plant bailout bill that was introduced earlier in the month.
That opposition, according to Householder’s texts, was coming from the oil and gas industry. Householder went on to say he wanted to “blister” central and eastern Ohio with anti-fracking ads related to injection wells.
Jones relayed Householder’s message to John Kiani, FirstEnergy Solutions’ chairman.
A text from Kiani, according to Wetzel's investigation, said, “Please tell LH we will glad (sic) pay for as many anti fracking ads as he wants.”
House Bill 6 was passed by the legislature and signed into law on July 23, 2019. Investigators said, during that time, FirstEnergy pumped millions of dollars into a dark money group, Generation Now, to advocate for the bill and apply pressure on lawmakers who were on the fence.
Householder is accused of operating Generation Now and using that money for personal and political gain, in exchange for passing HB 6.
Wetzel showed the jury a chart that showed Generation Now received more than $16 million while HB 6 as in the legislature.
The prosecution went on to show the different mailers, and radio and TV ads, that were paid for by Generation Now, to support the bill.
Explaining Borges’ role in HB 6
On Friday morning, Glatfelter said the prosecution wanted to turn attention to the role Borges played in the nuclear power plant bailout after having spent the majority of the time talking about Householder
Borges, the former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, sent a text message to an associate in March 2019 to notify them that they had been hired by FirstEnergy. Another document showed Borges had filed to be a lobbyist with the Ohio Joint Legislative Ethics Committee that May.
Text messages between other lobbyists, and with Borges, discussed the former Republican party chair's connections in the legislature and with state leaders.
Borges told a group of FirstEnergy associates through a text thread that he was able to sway some lawmakers to vote "yes" on HB 6. He also started to warn FirstEnergy that a referendum attempt on the bill was likely.
Lobbyists discuss Borges relationship with Yost
Wetzel presented other text messages obtained through his investigation that note the relationship Borges has with Attorney General Dave Yost (R-Ohio). Borges was Yost’s political advisor and ran his campaign for Ohio Auditor.
Juan Cespedes, a former FirstEnergy lobbyist, texted Borges on several occasions – according to the prosecution’s submitted evidence – to talk to Yost on the issue of a potential referendum attempt on HB 6.
Cespedes and Borges discussed the argument that citizens could not attempt to repeal HB 6 because the subsidy could be considered a tax, which is not subject to a referendum.
In one text, Cespedes said to Borges, “Please get to Yost.”
Borges said he would “gauge” Yost’s interpretation on that part of the law.
After a meeting with Yost in Washington, D.C., Borges said he was told by Yost that he would “be out front opposing this if it weren’t for FE’s support and your involvement.”
When asked to comment on the text messages, Bethany McCorkle, Yost’s communications director, said Yost was “subpoenaed to potentially be a witness in this case. At this time, it is inappropriate for him to comment.”