Ohio AG Yost files civil lawsuit over HB6, law at center of $60M bribery scheme

FILE - In this Feb. 20, 2020, file photo, Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost speaks in Columbus, Ohio. Yost sent a letter about the uproar over President Donald Trump's mail policy warning that "radical changes" would "place the solvency of the Post Office above the legitimacy of the Government itself." (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth, File)

Credit: Julie Carr Smyth

Credit: Julie Carr Smyth

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Wednesday filed a civil lawsuit to block millions of dollars in subsidies from flowing to electric companies allegedly involved in a $60 million bribery scheme.

The subsidies are slated to be added to 4.5 million customers' bills across Ohio starting in January. The revenues are scheduled to be distributed to Energy Harbor Corp. and Ohio Valley Electricity Corp. FirstEnergy Corp. is in line to receive $355 million in “decoupling” revenue through 2024, under the new law.

Filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, the lawsuit names 14 defendants, including the energy companies, political entities and the five men criminally charged in U.S. District Court with racketeering: state Rep. Larry Householder, lobbyists Juan Cespedes, Matt Borges and Neil Clark, and political strategist Jeff Longstreth.

The lawsuit seeks damages and to:

  • prevent the defendants from receiving the subsidies.
  • force dissolution of political nonprofits involved in the “shell game.”
  • block participants in the illegal scheme from holding office in government or campaigns for eight years.
  • block defendants from lobbying state government for eight years.

“This is too little, too late,” said Mike McGovern of ProgressOhio, a liberal leaning think tank. “Yost has already failed to investigate this scandal once. He is far too connected to the corrupt people and organizations involved to carry out this investigation. Yost isn’t independent, he’s compromised.”

Yost disagreed and said he has the independence needed to hold the players accountable.

“I call balls and strikes and hey, I sued these people,” he said.

The lawsuit comes as state lawmakers wrestle with whether and how to repeal House Bill 6, a measure that Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law in July 2019 and took effect in October 2019 after opponents failed to mount a referendum campaign. Opponents faced a fierce counter-campaign that flooded Ohio with TV ads and mailers and circulated alternate petitions.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts failed to gather the required 266,000 valid voter signatures by the Oct. 21 deadline and the bill became law.

In July, FBI agents arrested Householder, Borges, Cespedes, Clark and Longstreth in connection with what U.S. Attorney David DeVillers has called the biggest bribery scheme in Ohio history.

According to federal prosecutors, unnamed energy companies funneled $60 million in bribe money through dark money groups that helped elect Householder’s allies into legislative seats and position Householder to become House speaker. Householder and his team then helped pass the bill and defend it from a referendum attempt, according to an 81-page criminal complaint.

Federal prosecutors did not identify companies by name but used descriptions that identify them as FirstEnergy, FirstEnergy Services and FirstEnergy Solutions, now called Energy Harbor.

ExploreYost to investigate new allegations in fight over HB6

A handful of bills to repeal HB6 are pending in the Ohio General Assembly but none have emerged from committee. House Democrats have tried to insert repeal language into other bills but have been thwarted.

Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said new House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, told him the House wants time to fix the problems created by House Bill 6. But if the House fails to act, Obhof said the Senate is moving forward with plans to repeal HB6.

“Right now we’re trying to work together,” Obhof said.

In Other News