Former Ohio GOP leader accused in House Bill 6 scandal fights him

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Former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges did not understand what was going on when he was arrested in early July 21, 2020.

When he arrived at the US Marshals Service, Borges realized he was not being charged with an error on his taxes.

“I look to my left and I see (the speaker at the time) Larry Householder sitting in a jail cell,” Borges said in a recent interview with the USA TODAY Network Ohio office. “And I just thought, ‘I guess that has something to do with the head of the household. House Bill 6 probably. We’ll see.'”

A year later, Borges still doesn’t understand what happened to link him to the country’s biggest pending corruption case.

After:Who’s who in House Bill 6?

After:Up front Larry Householder looked invincible but behind the scenes it was a different story

Federal charges

Borges, Householder and three others are accused of participating in a nearly $ 61 million bribery scheme to help Householder take control of Ohio House in early 2019, pass a $ 1 billion bailout. dollars for the two nuclear power plants and defend this law – House Bill 6 – against a vote initiative to block it.

After:Selling in the Statehouse: A Timeline of the House Bill 6 Affair

Former Rep Larry Householder was recently removed from the Ohio House.

Householder and Borges have pleaded not guilty to racketeering, publicly asserting their innocence. Householder strategist Jeff Longstreth and FirstEnergy Solutions lobbyist Juan Cespedes have pleaded guilty for their roles. GOP superlobbyist Neil Clark, who pleaded not guilty, committed suicide in March 2021 before his innocence or guilt could be proven.

At the heart of the case against Borges is the allegation that he gave GOP strategist Tyler Fehrman $ 15,000 in exchange for inside information about efforts to block Bill 6.

Borges disputes all aspects of this allegation, saying the $ 15,000 was not offered in exchange for information about the anti-bailout referendum, which Fehrman worked on. Borges said he gave Fehrman the money “in return for future political projects” and to help his friend and mentee deal with financial problems.

But even though his goal was nefarious, Borges says the money offered does not meet the federal definition of a bribe because Fehrman is not a public official or a witness to a trial.

Fehrman declined to comment on the case, pointing to recorded conversations between the two detailed in the federal affidavit.

After:Former Ohio GOP chief accused in federal corruption case: FBI-taped interviews “selectively edited”

Borges says he looks forward to the day when he can prove his innocence – that nothing he has done has stepped outside of the bounds of politics as usual. Meanwhile, Borges is trying to use an Ohio Election Commission case to clear his name and dig holes in the federal charges against him: by forcing Fehrman to testify under oath.

When the commission’s executive director deemed it premature, Borges’ attorneys filed a lawsuit with the Franklin County Common Plea Court, which is still pending.

“I am completely ready to accept the consequences of my mistake if I am wrong, but I don’t believe I am wrong,” Borges said. “I know I am not wrong, and they know I am not wrong.”

After:Former Ohio GOP chief Matt Borges says he didn’t bribe anyone, Yost “chasing the headlines”

The choice of the PUCO de Borges commissioner

In December 2020, federal prosecutors met with Borges and his lawyers, setting out the case against him and offering a plea deal: six months probation and no jail time, Borges said.

“When it’s all over, 90 minutes later they say, ‘Now if you agree to cooperate with us and sign this agreement, we will give you the sun, the moon and the stars,’” Borges recalled. “We need you to plead guilty so we can get Householder,” to which I just said, “f *** you.” No, I don’t. ”

Borges has no allegiance to Householder, claiming that if the former Ohio House speaker hatched an illegal plan with FirstEnergy, then “people have to be held accountable, but I certainly was never involved in it. and no one will ever, ever, ever be able to prove that I was.

Federal prosecutors have charged Borges with money laundering and honest private service fraud, a federal offense recently used in the college admissions scandal.

They allege that Borges’ consulting firm 17 Consulting Group received $ 1.62 million from Generation Now, Householder’s black money group funded by FirstEnergy and its affiliates, to help block a referendum on the proposed Law 6, according to the indictment.

Borges said the total is correct – an amount he offered to contest the referendum – but he said it was approved by FirstEnergy Solutions, the company that owns the two nuclear power plants, and he never knew that the money was illegal.

Borges also lobbied for FirstEnergy Solutions and informed executive John Kiani that a referendum to block their bill was already underway. A spokesperson for the company, now called Energy Harbor, did not respond to a request for comment.

But Borges says prosecutors have made more allegations against him – ones he can easily refute. He said they accused him of helping Sam Randazzo secure an appointment to the Ohio Public Services Commission and asking Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to delay collecting signatures the initiative of the ballot.

Borges said he worked with American Electric and Power to block Randazzo’s appointment to PUCO, which oversees utilities like FirstEnergy and AEP. Borges offered Gov. Mike DeWine an alternative: former Hamilton County Commissioner Dennis Deters. Borges arranged meetings for Dennis Deters while leaking damaging information about Randazzo to the media.

AEP confirmed that Borges worked as an external consultant for AEP in 2018 and 2019. Borges had not worked on Bill 6 or other laws for AEP. Spokesman Scott Blake declined to comment on the AEP’s stance on Randazzo or Deters.

In the end, DeWine appointed the two to PUCO.

When asked about that December meeting and the charges against Borges, the South Ohio District Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

“We are not going to comment on matters outside of the public record,” spokeswoman Jennifer Thornton said. “We look forward to all the facts being revealed in future legal proceedings.”

A postponement of the referendum?

Borges also said federal prosecutors accused him of bribing Yost to block the referendum effort to bring House Bill 6 to voters.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said no one asked him to slow down the language of the referendum on House Bill 6.

Yost rejected the original referendum language citing 21 inaccuracies, which delayed signature-gathering efforts by 10 days. In October 2019, Borges donated $ 10,000 to Yost’s campaign as part of an annual fundraiser.

But Borges said the delay and the donation were unrelated.

Borges said he spoke to Yost and the staff of Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose about the attempt by supporters of Bill 6 to challenge the Ohio Supreme Court poll initiative, saying that the law was a tax not subject to referendum. In the end, neither Yost nor LaRose signed off on this legal interpretation in court.

Yost, through spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle, said no one had asked the Attorney General to block or slow down the House Bill 6 referendum – neither Borges, nor Householder nor the Leader of Householder’s Cabinet. The FBI asked Yost about the House Bill 6 case in a “very brief” interview in July 2020, she said.

Borges’ lawyers are asking federal prosecutors for their interview with Yost to prove Borges did nothing to influence him. Prosecutors are required to provide evidence favorable to the accused, but they have not yet done so.

Trump’s plot

Borges has another theory as to why he was caught in the federal inquiry: Former President Donald Trump wanted him arrested.

Trump was not a fan of Borges, who backed the presidential candidacy of former Governor John Kasich in 2016. Trump helped oust Borges from his leadership role in the Ohio Republican Party. In June 2020, Borges launched an anti-Trump super PAC – the month before his arrest.

“Does anyone want to overtake Trump’s Justice Department to want to crush this?” Borges asked.

Borges said that when he was arrested, the FBI informed him that this was being done on behalf of the “President of the United States.”

Borges also filed a lawsuit against then-US attorney Dave DeVillers, claiming DeVillers and his wife discussed Borges’s arrest before it happened, which is not allowed.

DeVillers said in an interview that his wife overheard a call with Borges ‘lawyer about Borges’ arrest while the case was still sealed. His wife was worried about Borges’ daughter.

“I can decide who knows what,” DeVillers said, conceding that a magistrate could penalize him for sharing the information.

But even Borges admits connections with Trump could be overstated: “People can choose to believe or not believe in Trump’s involvement. I’m not even sure I believe it.

It has been an incredible year for Borges. Ever since he saw Householder in that cell, he’s still trying to figure out what happened.

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Akron Beacon Journal, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.


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