Judge scolds Ohio House Bill 6 defendant for posting witness’s social security card and driver’s license online

COLUMBUS — A federal judge has admonished a former lobbyist accused in the Ohio House Bill 6 corruption case for using his website to publish the personal information of a key witness in the case, including unredacted copies of his driver’s license and Social Security card.

In a written order on Friday, U.S. District Judge Timothy Black said he found it “entirely incredible” that Matt Borges didn’t mean to post witness Tyler Fehrman’s information to his legal defense website, given that the lengthy file listed Fehrman’s personal identifying information — including his then-spouse’s name, his address and Social Security number — repeatedly and, at least in one case, in large, bold font.

“It is virtually impossible for anyone to scroll through the file and not see that it contains unredacted personal identifiers,” Black said.

Black basically ordered Borges not to do it again, telling him to avoid directly or indirectly doing anything that could be used to “identify, harass, intimidate or harm” any witness or potential witness in the case.

Borges published Fehrman’s information on a website Borges launched in June to try to raise money for his legal defense. The information was contained in Fehrman’s personnel file from his former job with the Franklin County auditor’s office, which Borges’s lawyers obtained through a public records request.

Franklin County was supposed to redact any personal information but failed to do so, according to Borges and his lawyers. Borges has said he didn’t realize the file contained Fehrman’s sensitive personal information and said he took it down immediately once he was notified it was there.

Federal prosecutors flagged the issue in a court filing earlier this week, asking Black to modify the terms of Borges’s bond to prevent him from harassing any witnesses in the case.

Borges, a former Ohio Republican Party chairman turned lobbyist, is accused of being one of the chief middlemen to quash a ballot referendum effort that sought to repeal HB6 shortly after Gov. Mike DeWine signed it in July 2019. He has publicly sparred with federal prosecutors leading up to his trial date, granting numerous media interviews and accusing the government of misportraying evidence and withholding it from his legal team.

HB6 is a wide-ranging energy bill would have charged Ohio electricity customers $1 billion over seven years to bail out Ohio two nuclear plants. But state lawmakers repealed most of the bill after it became clear it was the center of a federal corruption probe, when Borges, then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and others were arrested in July 2020.

Akron-based FirstEnergy, the former owner of the nuclear plants that HB6 subsidized, in July 2021 admitted to spending tens of millions of dollars to get Householder elected so he would help the company pass HB6. The company paid a $230 million fine, among other conditions of its deferred prosecution agreement.

Borges and Householder both have pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing. Both are expected to go on trial in 2023.