Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was ousted Thursday from his role as speaker in a unanimous and bipartisan vote, following his arrest in what prosecutors called the “largest bribery scheme" in state history.
Rep. Larry Householder is the first Ohio House speaker ever removed by the chamber, according to the Ohio History Connection. For now, he still retains his seat in the GOP-led legislature.
Remaining members of Householder’s leadership team had said he deserves the presumption of innocence but that he “lost the trust of his colleagues and the public” and couldn’t effectively lead the House. Householder did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The 61-year-old Householder, regarded as one of the state's three most powerful lawmakers, was taken into custody and charged with racketeering conspiracy, officials said.
Also arrested and charged were the speaker's adviser Jeffrey Longstreth, 44; former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matthew Borges, 48; and prominent lobbyists Neil Clark, 67, and Juan Cespedes, 40, authorities said. A federal grand jury formally indicted the five on Thursday, charging each with a single count of racketeering.
The defendants are behind "what is likely the largest bribery, money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio," U.S. Attorney David DeVillers told reporters.
The charges are connected to House Bill 6, officials said, a bill signed into law last year that bailed out two nuclear power plants in northern Ohio to the tune of $1.5 billion. Householder played a key role in passing the financial rescue, which included new fees on electricity bills in Ohio and will direct more than $150 million annually, through 2026, to the plants near Cleveland and Toledo.
The center of the scheme, officials said, was the formation of a tax-free non-profit called Generation Now that was supposed to be a social service organization. Instead, it was allegedly Householder's personal account, funded by an energy company, to wield political power and pass the bailout, authorities said.
Generation Now was allegedly used to funnel $61 million in "dark money," DeVillers said last week.
"Make no mistake, these allegations are bribery, pure and simple," DeVillers said. "This was a quid pro quo. This was pay to play."
"While [Householder] is entitled to his day in court and a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, it has become abundantly clear that he has lost the trust of his colleagues and the public, and is unable to effectively lead this chamber," House Republicans said in a statement Tuesday.
Householder had ignored calls for his resignation from colleagues in both parties. A decision on when to schedule a vote to choose a new speaker will be made by Assistant Majority Floor Leader Anthony DeVitis, of Green.
“This is the most important thing that we’ve done today," said GOP Rep. Bob Cupp, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice who, along with Householder’s No. 2, Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Jim Butler, is a potential candidate to be the next speaker. "There is no doubt that people feel betrayed, used, and it's been a stain on the House, and people want to make sure we begin anew.”
Three other potential candidates to be the next speaker — Reps. Rick Carfagna, Tim Ginter and Craig Riedel — withdrew from the race Wednesday and threw their support to Cupp.