By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS Associated Press
COLUMBUS — Two Ohio political operatives pleaded guilty Thursday to charges that they conspired as part of what another defendant called an “unholy alliance” aimed at bailing out two aging Ohio nuclear power plants, court documents show.
Former Republican House Speaker Larry Householder and four others were charged with racketeering for their roles in the alleged scheme, under a law federal prosecutors typically use to charge gang members.
The five are accused of shepherding $60 million in energy company money for personal and political use in exchange for passing a legislative bailout of two aging nuclear plants and then derailing an attempt to place a rejection of the bailout on the ballot. The government refers to the operation in court documents as “the Enterprise.”
The government says the energy company money was funneled through Generation Now, a group created to promote “social welfare” under a provision of federal tax law that shields its funding source or spending. The government says part of the scheme involved bribing or otherwise discouraging signature gatherers from doing their job.
Generation Now is charged as a corporation in the case.
An 82-page criminal complaint makes clear the energy company is FirstEnergy and its affiliates. FirstEnergy’s CEO has said he and the company did nothing wrong.
Juan Cespedes, 41, a lobbyist described by investigators as a “key middleman,” and Jeffrey Longstreth, 44, a longtime Householder political adviser, pleaded guilty Thursday before federal Judge Timothy Black in hearings held by video conference because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cespedes and Longstreth face up to 20 years in prison but are likely to receive far shorter sentences.