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Ohio House Speaker Arrested In A Bribery Probe

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

To Ohio now, where FBI agents arrested the speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives and the former head of the state's Republican Party. It's being called the state's largest public corruption scandal. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.

KAREN KASLER, BYLINE: Republican House Speaker Larry Householder was arrested on racketeering charges after federal agents raided his farm. U.S. Attorney David DeVillers says there was a conspiracy to pass a $1.5 billion nuclear power plant bailout in return for a kickback of $61 million.

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DAVID DEVILLERS: Make no mistake. These allegations are bribery, pure and simple. This was a quid pro quo. This was play - pay to play.

KASLER: DeVillers accuses Householder of using the money to settle a lawsuit, to pay off credit card debt and for a home in Florida. Also arrested on racketeering charges were Matt Borges, former chair of Ohio's Republican Party and a backer of former Governor John Kasich in his 2016 presidential run. Householder's longtime adviser and two lobbyists were also arrested. Special Agent Chris Hoffman says the investigation isn't over.

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CHRIS HOFFMAN: This is the first time racketeering charge has been used on a public official in the Southern District of Ohio. RICO charges are reserved for the most egregious conduct.

KASLER: The arrests revolve around a controversial nuclear power plant bailout law passed last year. It sends $150 million annually in subsidies to Ohio's two nuclear power plants. That law was challenged in an expensive campaign, and the unsuccessful effort to repeal it was equally contentious. Ohio State University Professor Emeritus of political science Paul Beck says this could have a ripple effect on the party that's dominated at the Ohio Statehouse for well more than a decade.

PAUL BECK: These kinds of scandals often happen when one party has complete control over government.

KASLER: Larry Householder is the second Ohio House speaker to be under FBI scrutiny in the last two years. And this is the second time the FBI has investigated him. When he was speaker for the first time in the early 2000s, Householder was investigated for bribery and corruption. No charges were filed. The U.S. attorney says there's no evidence that this conspiracy reached Governor Mike DeWine. DeWine and several state and federal lawmakers are now calling for Householder to resign.

For NPR News, I'm Karen Kasler in Columbus.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.