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Ex-Ohio House speaker Larry Householder's corruption trial paused for COVID-19 case

CORRECTION Bribery Investigation Ohio
Posted at 1:26 PM, Jan 26, 2023

CINCINNATI — The corruption trial of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder has been paused for the rest of the week after a juror tested positive for COVID-19.

Court announced it would delay proceedings Wednesday in anticipation of winter weather in Cincinnati, where the trial is taking place, but ultimately canceled for the day. Wednesday just before 5 p.m., the court announced it learned a juror tested positive for COVID-19 and the trial would not reconvene until Monday, Jan. 30 at 9:30 a.m.

Jury selection for the trial began Jan. 20 and 12 jurors and four alternates have been chosen to hear the case, hearing opening statements on Jan. 23.

The trial takes place in the same courthouse where, six months before, federal prosecutors won a public corruption conviction against former Cincinnati city councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.

Householder's is a more complex case, though some of the same players will participate. Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Glatfelter — the same lead prosecutor in the public corruption case against Sittenfeld — is now taking on the former Ohio House speaker in the largest public corruption trial in Ohio history.

Householder and former GOP chair Matt Borges are facing a jury trial together, both accused of being a part of a criminal enterprise. Racketeering conspiracy, or RICO, is a charge more often associated with organized crime bosses than elected leaders and lobbyists.

Both have maintained their innocence. They face as much as 20 years in prison if convicted.

A grand jury indicted Householder and four associates in 2020. They allegedly took $60 million from Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. and funneled the dark money through a nonprofit, Generation Now, to build a power base for Householder and pass a $1.3 billion bailout for two nuclear plants in what is known as Ohio House Bill 6.

Two defendants have pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to testify at trial: lobbyist Juan Cespedes and political advisor Jeffrey Longstreth. A third, Columbus lobbyist Neil Clark, took his own life a year after his arrest. Clark died from a gunshot wound to the head in March 2021, while wearing a blue “DeWine for Governor” T-shirt, according to his Florida autopsy report which was reported by numerous media outlets. However, the jury will likely still hear from Clark through his wiretapped recorded conversations

So far, the jury has heard opening statements on Monday, followed by FBI agent Blane Wetzel on Tuesday, who oversaw the corruption case, which was sparked by a tip made by an unnamed "concerned individual."

Wetzel did not finish his testimony Tuesday and was expected to retake the witness stand through Wednesday.

The trial is expected to take four to six weeks.