The Wired-Up Political Consultant Who Brought Down Ohio’s Speaker

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UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 15: Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
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July 24, 2020 6:07 p.m.

The man who helped bring down perhaps the largest alleged bribery scheme in Ohio history is a rosy-cheeked motorcycle enthusiast and political consultant.

Tyler Fehrman — or rather “CHS 1” as he’s referred to in federal court records — was a manager for the petition-gathering effort to reverse House Bill 6, a massive energy law that passed in 2019. It was championed by Ohio state House speaker Larry Householder, and included a billion-dollar bailout for two aging nuclear plants in the state.

As it turns out, HB6 stunk. Householder and several alleged accomplices were arrested earlier this week and charged in what U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio David DeVillers called “likely the largest bribery–money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of Ohio.”

Central to the charges against the men was a confidential human source for the FBI: Fehrman. The Toledo Blade confirmed his identity Thursday.

In an affidavit released this week, an FBI agent alleged that Matt Borges, a lobbyist and former Ohio GOP chair, offered Fehrman a bribe to sabotage the anti-HB6 effort. Instead of taking it, the affidavit said, Fehrman went to the FBI — and the massive alleged bribery scheme began to unravel.

On Tuesday, prosecutors alleged that over several years, an “enterprise” of lobbyists and political consultants — and the speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, Householder — secretly accepted $60 million from the then-owner of the power plants, FirstEnergy, as part of an effort to put Householder in the speaker’s chair and build support for HB6.

The money allegedly flowed through a dark money group called Generation Now, a Householder-controlled group that was also charged federally. The gang is accused of a federal public corruption racketeering conspiracy.

After HB6 became law and activists started a petition gathering effort to reverse the legislation, the so-called “Householder enterprise” kept up its work — seeking to sabotage the activists.

In an interview with cleveland.com Friday, Fehrman said Borges was a “close friend” and “mentor” who’d encouraged him to take a manager job with the anti-HB6 group.

Then, Fehrman said, Borges got back in touch.

“Never did I ever think that Matt was going to put me in the position that he did,” Fehrman said. “One of the first things he told me was, ‘Dude, I don’t have a mortgage anymore. Like, I’m so taken care of. And we could do the same for you.’”

In the criminal complaint against Householder, Borges, Generation Now and three others, an FBI agent described the overture to Ferhman as an attempt to get inside information about the anti-bailout petition effort.

Ferhman initially refused.

“I can’t put a price tag on my integrity or my word,” he told Borges, according to the complaint. Borges responded that he understood, per the complaint, and stressed that Ferhman shouldn’t tell anyone about their conversation — “no matter what.”

Ferhman didn’t take that advice. Instead he went to the FBI, which encouraged him to go back to Borges and feign interest in the offer. He recorded each subsequent conversation, including as he allegedly “accepted” a $15,000 payoff.

“I was terrified,” he recalled to cleveland.com. “I cannot tell you how unsettling and abnormal and strange it feels to be in that situation. I felt on edge, knowing that I had to go in and sit down and interact with (Borges) the same way I would normally as a close friend.”

After handing Ferhman the check a few days later, according to the complaint, Borges again allegedly told Ferhman to keep the relationship quiet.

Ferhman recalled to cleveland.com that Borges warned Ferhman not to “screw” him — and said he hoped he wasn’t recording the conversation for the Columbus Dispatch.

“I’m not recording anything for the Dispatch,” Ferhman said he responded.

As the pair got up to leave, Ferhman recalled, Borges looked at him,

“Seriously, though — if you’re ****ing with me, we’ll blow up your house,” Ferhman recalled him saying.

“I remember getting in my car and just feeling my heart sink,” Fehrman said. “I played it off as a joke, but I was already scared — and that terrified me.”

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