Ex-Ohio GOP chair, lobbyist Matt Borges shows remorse, gets 5 years for role in $60M bribery scheme

Jun 30, 2023, 9:44 AM | Updated: 12:48 pm

FILE - Then-Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges participates in a question-and-answer sessio...

FILE - Then-Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges participates in a question-and-answer session in Columbus, Ohio, Feb. 11, 2016. Borges has been sentenced, Friday, June 30, 2023, to five years in prison and three years of probation for his part in the largest corruption scandal in Ohio history. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins, File)

(AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins, File)

CINCINNATI (AP) — Ohio lobbyist Matt Borges was sentenced Friday to five years in prison for his part in the largest corruption scandal in Ohio history. He avoided the much harsher sentence received a day earlier by former House Speaker Larry Householder, the scheme’s mastermind, by accepting responsibility and apologizing before the judge.

“Nothing makes it feel more stark than knowing I could have walked away from this at the very beginning,” the 51-year-old Borges, a former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, told U.S. District Judge Timothy Black.

Black nonetheless rebuked Borges for his role in preventing Ohioans the chance to repeal a tainted nuclear plant bailout bill.

“Larry Householder was a crook and you knew it. ‘ An unholy alliance ‘ is what you called it,” Black said.

“You didn’t care that you were aiding an Ohio House speaker to undermine the very foundation of our democracy,” he told Borges. “You just saw everyone else getting fat and rich, and you wanted a piece of it.”

Black admitted to being moved by Borges’ contrition, however, which may have contributed to him escaping the top of the 5- to 8-year range federal prosecutors sought. But the judge rejected any notion that Borges should only get the six months offered to cooperative witnesses or the 1 1/2 years sought by his attorneys, and ordered him into immediate custody.

As a handcuffed Borges left the courtroom, he looked back at his wife Kate, who had delivered an impassioned plea for leniency to the judge, and could be heard saying, “Bye, babe.” She blew him a kiss.

A jury convicted Householder and Borges Householder orchestrated and Borges participated in a $60 million bribery scheme secretly funded by Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. to secure Householder’s power, elect his allies and pass and defend a $1 billion nuclear plant bailout. Specifically, Borges was found to have offered a bribe in exchange for inside information on a referendum campaign aimed at repealing the bailout law.

Householder, 64, was sentenced to 20 years, the maximum allowed, on Thursday.

During the trial, Borges sought to distance himself from Householder — once one of Ohio’s most powerful Republican politicians — with his defense team highlighting his absence from meetings held by Householder’s allies and Borges quipping audibly in the courtroom that he didn’t even like the man.

After Householder confirmed on the stand during their trial that Borges was not among his confidantes, the younger Republican opted against testifying on his own behalf at that time.

Black said Friday that Borges’ expunged conviction years ago in a state government pay-to-play scandal didn’t play a significant role in his sentence this time.

Borges, who served as a campaign staffer and chief of staff to then-Republican State Treasurer Joe Deters, pleaded guilty in 2004 to one count of improper use of a public office. He was fined $1,000, but avoided jail time of up to six months.

Borges was charged with giving 10 brokers who had contributed to Deters’ campaign fund an advantage in getting contracts with the office of the treasurer — Ohio’s chief investment officer. A Deters fundraiser and a lobbyist who served as a go-between to the preferential treatment also were convicted.

Though Deters was never directly connected to the scheme, it stymied his career in state politics for almost two decades. That was, until GOP Gov. Mike DeWine named him in December to an open seat on the Ohio Supreme Court.

Because of his association with Borges, Deters has recused himself from a separate state case against FirstEnergy stemming from the scandal that’s been appealed to the high court.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker said he was gratified that Borges showed remorse during Friday’s hearing, including saying how disappointed he was in himself and apologizing in open court to adversaries he lashed out at through a dedicated website.

“That’s the first step to rehabilitation, so I was glad to see that,” Parker said. “He, and only he, knows whether or not it was genuine. But that’s the first step to making things right, inside and outside.”

Householder and Borges were among five people arrested by federal authorities in July 2020, charged along with a dark money group, for their roles in the wide-ranging scheme. A federal investigation remains ongoing.

Two others — Juan Cespedes and Jeff Longstreth — have pleaded guilty and are cooperating as they await sentences of up to six months in prison. A third man, the late Statehouse superlobbyist Neil Clark, pleaded not guilty before dying by suicide in 2021. Generation Now, the 501(c) nonprofit through which much of the money flowed, also has pleaded guilty to racketeering.

FirstEnergy also has admitted to its role, admitting in an agreement with the government to using dark money groups to fund the effort and agreeing to pay a $230 million fine and meet other conditions in order to avoid prosecution.

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Ex-Ohio GOP chair, lobbyist Matt Borges shows remorse, gets 5 years for role in $60M bribery scheme