Ohio Republican's corruption trial gets off to rocky start as judge scolds attorneys
Ohio House of Representatives image of Larry Householder.

The corruption trial of two of Ohio's most powerful Republicans got off to a rocky start for former speaker of the state House Larry Householder.

A federal judge scolded Householder's attorneys for "bush league" antics intended to distract prosecutors during their opening statements in the trial, which involves an alleged $60 million bribery scheme that shocked FBI agents who investigated the case, which involved First Energy and other utility companies, for years, reported journalist Daniel McGraw for The Bulwark.

"According to prosecutors, the money train got rolling with $60 million the utilities paid to 'dark money' PACs to get H.B. 6, the bill benefiting them, passed," McGraw wrote. "The cash rolled downhill to some Republican political leaders. Especially well positioned to push for the legislation was Householder, a longtime Ohio political player. According to the feds, the speaker got at least $400,000 himself, which he used to pay off credit cards and fix up his loft in the Florida."

Householder's defense team accused federal prosecutors of overstepping their authority and argued the campaign contributions were protected by the First Amendment, but U.S. District judge Timothy Black denied their attempts to dismiss the indictment, which he said laid out a detailed case against the former House speaker and his co-defendant -- a prominent GOP critic of the former president.

"Co-defendant Matt Borges, the former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said last year that he blames his predicament on Donald Trump," McGraw said. "The judge, however, disagreed with Borges that he was 'on the FBI’s radar because of Trump' and that such political disagreements were irrelevant to Borges’s guilt or innocence."

A third individual charged in the case, the Columbus lobbyist Neil Clark known as the "Prince of Darkness," took his own life in March 2021, but an FBI informant recorded him describing a scheme to disrupt a voter referendum the utility companies opposed, and he also detailed some of the statehouse corruption in his self-published memoir.

“From the first day I walked into the Statehouse, it was already a corrupt, pay-to-play state, and, over 40 years later, I saw no saints,” Clark wrote. “All put power, self-interest and greed before the interest of Ohioans.”

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