Neil Clark, a longtime Columbus lobbyist who was arrested and indicted in July, said in an interview with Cleveland.com that Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) is referred to in the federal affidavit connected to the House Bill 6 scandal as “Representative 8,” who the FBI said is not known to be a member of the alleged criminal enterprise at the center of the corruption probe.
Clark told the publication that he, Edwards, then-Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives Larry Householder, an aide, and two clients — who Clark reportedly believed to be working undercover with the FBI — met in September 2019 at the Aubergine Club, an expensive dinner club in a wealthy Columbus suburb, where they discussed the importance of defeating the ballot initiative campaign that aimed to repeal House Bill 6.
Edwards, who served on Householder’s Republican leadership team as majority whip, said in an interview with The NEWS on Friday that he doesn’t recall attending the meeting, but he never explicitly denied that it occurred.
“I just don’t have it on my calendar. I went to a lot of dinners. I went to a lot of different things, so, you know, that’s not to say it didn’t happen, that’s not to say that it did,” he said.
He told The NEWS in an interview last week that he’s worked in the past with all of the men who were indicted in connection to the FBI’s investigation, including Clark, and that he even knew some of them personally. But the state representative maintained that he was wholly unaware of their alleged criminal connections described in the affidavit.
Edwards wouldn’t say whether he believed he was “Representative 8,” as outlined within the affidavit, when he was contacted Friday by The NEWS.
At the September 2019 meeting, which was recorded by the FBI, Householder expressed to the group how important it was that the House Bill 6 repeal effort fail.
A staffer, who Clark told Cleveland.com was Brian Gray — a House aide who stepped down after Householder’s arrest — followed up saying, “‘What we need to make them realize is that you (Householder) can’t be f*cked with,’” the affidavit said.
Clark agreed, saying, “‘it sends the message to everyone else … if you attack a member, were going to f*cking rip your dick off,’” according to the document.
Householder and Clark reportedly laughed during the meeting over a mailer that encouraged Ohioans not to sign petitions from “out-of-staters” who were hired to help repeal House Bill 6.
Clark said that some signature collectors had prior arrests and were technically criminals, to which “Representative 8 (another representative of the Ohio House of Representatives, who is not known to be part of the enterprise) asked how they knew the signature collectors had prior arrests,” according to the affidavit.
One of the men at the meeting who was said to be Clark’s client, known to him as Brian Bennett, claimed to be a Cincinnati hotel developer who wanted help ensuring that a sports-betting bill, which Edwards co-sponsored, would include provisions to allow for a betting window within their hotel, according to Cleveland.com.
The other man present at the meeting was known to Clark only as “Vinnie,” and was said to be from Bennett’s company’s Rhode Island office, Clark told Cleveland.com.
Clark, who now believes both men were either FBI agents or wired informants, met with them on a few occasions in both Cincinnati and Nashville.
Edwards told The NEWS on Friday that he vaguely recollected at some point in recent years interacting with people who match the description of the hotel developers Clark described. Though he said that he met with numerous people in connection to the sports-betting bill.
“It seems like I have an embelence (sic) of remembering meeting guys from Nashville who had boutique hotels that wanted to talk sports gaming,” Edwards said in his interview with The NEWS.
Edwards recalled thinking it was unusual that men who developed boutique hotels were interested in sports gambling.
Clark also recounted in the Cleveland.com interview what he described as irregularities about the men, including that they reportedly only paid for meals in cash.
Several others that Cleveland.com spoke to, including Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) and two unnamed Cincinnati officials, recalled interacting with men who fit the descriptions of Bennett and another man, who was said to be a member of their company.
Edwards, despite regular contact with Householder, his staff and other Statehouse aides in-the-know, last week denied any prior knowledge of Householder’s scheme to take tens of millions of dollars from First Energy to influence legislation that ultimately bailed out two Ohio nuclear plants.
“To be quite frank, I’m around a lot of aides, I’m around a lot of other members, I’m around a lot of people who work on the official side in the House, I can confidently say I don’t think any of them knew,” Edwards said.
He continued, “Not to say some of them didn’t, I can’t speak for every single one of them, but I’m very confident in the sense of saying I was very close with them and I know that if some of them knew, I felt like I would know. And I know that I didn’t know,” he said.
While Edwards’ name doesn’t explicitly appear in any of the documents linked to the scandal, the federal affidavit filed against Householder and his accomplices describes their successful attempts to help elect members who would comprise “Team Householder.” Those on the team were either wittingly or unwittingly instrumental in the enterprise’s alleged scheme to pass House Bill 6.
Federal investigators uncovered a document from enterprise member Jeff Longstreth — Householder’s longtime political strategist — that describes a proposed list of individuals to comprise Householder’s leadership team should he win the speakership.
Those on that list include “Speaker of The House, Speaker Pro Tempore, Majority Floor Leader, Assistant Majority Leader, Majority Whip, and Assistant Majority Whip,” according to the FBI’s affidavit. “After Householder was elected speaker in 2019 all of the individuals, except for one, became part of Householder’s leadership team. (The exception was a representative who did not support Householder for Speaker).”
According to House voting records, Edwards both supported Householder for speaker and voted to pass House Bill 6.
Edwards, who at one point in an interview last week said he read most of the affidavit then later said he hadn’t seen the mention within it of Longstreth’s proposed leadership team for Householder, wouldn’t say whether he believed Householder and the enterprise members sought to handpick him for a leadership position.
“I have no idea. How would I comment on something I have nothing to do with? I have no idea what these other people wanted,” he said.
Editor's note: profanity from the affidavit has been slightly modified in this article.