Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Perry County Republican, second from left, with attorneys outside of his racketeering trial. Photo courtesy of WEWS.
BY: MARTY SCHLADEN – Ohio Capital Journal
CINCINNATI — The defense of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder erupted Thursday in Householder’s epic corruption trial.
Defense attorney Mark Marein of Cleveland suggested it was because of U.S. District Judge Timothy Black’s unfairness. But it came after a day in which the defense team’s attempts to undermine prosecution witnesses’ credibility might have come to naught.
The sparks flew in the fourth week of the trial. Householder and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges are accused of racketeering in a scheme to use $61 million in utility money to make Householder speaker and pass a $1.3 billion bailout that mostly benefited Akron-based FirstEnergy, the primary contributor.
Earlier on Thursday, defense attorney Steven Bradley cross examined Jeffrey Longstreth, who operated as Householder’s right-hand man through his bid for the speakership and the 2019 passage and defense of the bailout law, House Bill 6.
Longstreth was arrested along with Householder, Borges, and two others in July 2020. He is now cooperating with prosecutors in exchange for a sentencing recommendation of less than six months.
During direct examination Wednesday, Longstreth described fancy dinners with Householder and FirstEnergy’s top executives during Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017 in Washington, D.C.
At one, Longstreth described being at one end of a long table with FirstEnergy Vice President Michael Dowling in a noisy steakhouse, while Householder sat with company CEO Chuck Jones at the other. Longstreth said he couldn’t hear the conversation at the other end of the table, but at his end Dowling told him FirstEnergy needed help and it wanted to help Householder become speaker.
Dowling instructed Longstreth to set up an organization to receive FirstEnergy’s millions, Longstreth said.
“He said (the money) needed to be undisclosed and unlimited contributions,” Longstreth testified on Wednesday.
Apparently seeking to impeach Longstreth’s memory, Bradley on Thursday showed the jury an itinerary indicating that Jones took the FirstEnergy corporate jet to D.C. the morning after the steakhouse dinner. He also produced a credit card receipt showing that Jones attended a dinner at a different restaurant the following night than where a second, more-intimate dinner was described by Longstreth on Wednesday.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Glatfelter asked Longstreth if itineraries change. He agreed they often do.
She then produced credit card receipts and car records that indicated Jones may well have been in D.C and could have attended the first dinner as Longstreth described. She also showed that on the following night, the dinner Bradley said Jones attended ended about 30 minutes before the one Longstreth said he attended began.
Longstreth testified that it was common at presidential inaugurations to attend multiple receptions and dinners in the same evening. Apparently that’s a major purpose of the quadrennial gatherings: To stay in $600 hotels, eat multiple $200 dinners, and figure out how to split up the taxpayers’ —or ratepayer’s — money.
Whistleblower former state Rep. Dave Greenspan
After Longstreth left the stand, the prosecution called former state Rep. Dave Greenspan, R-Westlake. He said he never voted to make Householder speaker and he never supported House Bill 6.
“I didn’t believe in corporate bailouts,” Greenspan said, explaining that this one was especially hard to support because FirstEnergy hadn’t shown that it needed the money and the bill put no restrictions on how it was spent. “There was nothing in the bill that required FirstEnergy to do anything.”
As a sign of how unpopular the bill was, 17 Republicans voted against it when it passed the House in April 2019. And it’s an important reminder that it would never have become law without the support of Ohio House Democrats.
Greenspan described the intense pressure he was under from Householder and lobbyist Neil Clark to vote for the bill. He was so disturbed by it that he contacted a member of the U.S. Marshal’s Service, who put him in touch with the FBI.
During cross examination, Marein, another of Householder’s attorneys, seemed dumbfounded that Greenspan contacted the FBI, which he referred to as the “Federal Bureau of Investigation” in a tone that in many places would pass for shouting.
Then, as he tried to read lengthy passages of Greenspan’s grand jury testimony, Judge Black repeatedly cut the attorney off and told him to ask a question.
Another attack at the judge
On Feb. 1, Marein undertook a risky gambit by accusing the judge of bias, saying that Black had it in for his client because Householder opposed Black’s run for Ohio Supreme Court 22 years ago. After the jury filed out Thursday afternoon, Marein doubled down.
He started off so loudly that Black admonished Marein to show the same respect for him that Black believed he’d shown Marein.
A little more quietly, Marein said, “You’re really tying our hands. Overruling our objections. Quite frankly, I don’t know what’s going on.”
Then he added, “Is there something personal against Mr. Householder?”
When Marein finished, Black asked, “Is that all?”
Marein said yes, Black banged his gavel and said, “We’re in recess.”
Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He’s won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.
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