Ex-House speaker in Ohio disputing nearly $2M business debt

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Alabama bank is seeking nearly $2 million in unpaid debt from former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder as the Perry County Republican attempts a Statehouse comeback, an Associated Press review has found.

The once-powerful Householder is disputing the 2014 judgment for $1,893,151 that favored Union Bank over Flat Rock, Alabama-based D&E Mining, LLC, a coal-mining business in which he was an investor.

Householder said he sold his interest in D&E several years ago and disputes that he is the party responsible for the outstanding debt. The ex-speaker said he hopes the issue is resolved soon.

“Unfortunately, sometimes when you’re involved in business, as much as you try to settle differences, sometimes you have to wind up in litigation, and that’s where we’re at right now,” Householder, who is making a bid for his old House seat in the March 15 primary, told the AP. “We’re trying to resolve it and we have been trying to resolve it for a number of years.”

Householder declined to name those he believes are responsible, citing the active lawsuit.

Mark Sheriff, a Columbus attorney representing the bank, confirmed that the case is still open. He said Householder is fighting efforts by the bank to move its collections effort from Alabama to Ohio, among other things.

Court records show the dispute dates to 2013, when the bank sued D&E, Householder and others for the unpaid portion of a $2.4 million loan to D&E, which had been guaranteed through the federal recovery act passed in response to the national recession. Householder was the personal guarantor on the debt.

The loan was part of $452 million in federal loan assistance that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in 2010 supporting the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, according to an agency press release.

USDA spokesman David Sandretti said that, under the program, the bank loans the money and the federal government guarantees a significant portion of it should the business default.

The 56-year-old Householder left Columbus a decade ago. He was first speaker come to power in a new era of term limits, when Statehouse leaders no longer had the luxury to amass power over decades but had to move quickly, and sometimes more forcefully, to advance their agendas.

That history has raised concern that Householder and his allies could attempt to seize power from current leadership if he returns to the House.

Possible evidence of Householder’s aspirations: A super PAC, Buckeyes for a Better Ohio, has cropped up and is producing ads in support of his House race in southeast Ohio. Householder says a leadership takeover is nowhere in his plans, and last week said he was unaware of the super PAC.

At the time Householder departed, he was under federal investigation over allegations of money laundering and irregular campaign practices. After a two-year investigation, the U.S. Justice Department declined to prosecute.

Householder says he’s seeking a Statehouse return to complete unfinished business for his district. He faces Coshocton City Council President Cliff Biggers and Randal Almendinger, a township trustee in Licking County, for the Republican nomination.