COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The former speaker of the Ohio House still can’t find a permanent lawyer to defend him against a charge related to an alleged $60 million bribery scheme and needs more time to hire one, according to a Wednesday court filing.
Republican Rep. Larry Householder and four others each face a racketeering charge for their roles in the alleged scheme to bail out two aging nuclear power plants.
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 the plants and then derailing an attempt to place a rejection of the bailout on the ballot.
Four defendants pleaded not guilty earlier this month to the charge that they conspired as part of what one defendant called an “unholy alliance” aimed at saving the plants.
A judge allowed Householder to delay that Aug. 6 court appearance to find a new attorney, a request prosecutors didn’t oppose. Householder’s current attorney, Dave Thomas, says he has an unspecified conflict of interest and must drop off the case.
Thomas filed a new motion late Wednesday saying Householder still needs more time to find a long-term lawyer. Federal prosecutors aren’t opposing the request, but federal Judge Timothy Black still must approve it.
While Householder “has been diligently attempting to do so, he has not retained new counsel of the filing date of this motion,” Thomas said. “The breadth of the case and complexity of the Government’s allegations make securing competent, conflict-free counsel exceedingly difficult.”
Thomas emphasized the request wasn’t being made to delay the case.
In its criminal case, the government contends 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.
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.
Underscoring the complexity of the case referred to by Householder’s temporary attorney, at least four lawsuits have been filed against FirstEnergy since the charges were announced by consumers who opposed a surcharge allowed by the energy bill bailout.
FirstEnergy is also a defendant in dozens of other federal lawsuits that predate the charges, according to federal court records.
Householder was removed from his leadership post in a unanimous vote following his arrest last month. However, Republican lawmakers blocked an effort to strip him from his House seat.
After the change, Householder’s salary dropped from $107,214—for service as speaker and chairman of the Rules and Reference Committee—to $63,007 as a lawmaker not assigned to any committees.
New GOP speaker Rep. Bob Cupp also stripped Householder of his seat as vice chairman of the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission, though state law prohibits him from being removed from the panel itself, the Dayton Daily News reported.
Lawmakers from both parties have pledged to repeal the bailout and to pass legislation requiring disclosure of money contributed to and spent by dark money groups.