Gang of Five: Prosecutor takes a look after 2 council members destroy texts

Cincinnati City Council's "Gang of Five." From left to right: P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach,...
Cincinnati City Council's "Gang of Five." From left to right: P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman, Wendell Young, Tamaya Dennard. (Photo: FOX19 NOW)
Updated: Nov. 24, 2018 at 10:53 PM EST
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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Could some of Cincinnati City Council’s self-proclaimed “Gang of Five" be facing criminal charges after their text messages related to an ongoing lawsuit were destroyed?

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said Saturday his office is getting involved after it was disclosed nearly a week ago secret messages exchanged by Wendell Young and Tamaya Dennard could be lost for good.

“We don’t discuss grand jury matters. We don’t confirm investigative matters and we will review it this week,” Deters told FOX19 NOW.

“We are well aware of the situation and a decision will be made within the next 10 days how we are going to handle it.”

Deters declined further comment.

Gang of Five: Two council members' text messages were destroyed, lawyer says

Since the texts are considered evidence in the citizen’s lawsuit, destruction of them could be a criminal offense.

Tampering with evidence is a third degree felony in Ohio that is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, state records show.

Young declined comment Saturday night.

Dennard did not respond to a request for comment.

Attorney Brian Shrive, who is suing the self-proclaimed “Gang of Five” council members for their texts on behalf of an anti-tax activist, announced a city lawyer told him some of the messages were destroyed.

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The suit, filed in April, names Young, Dennard, P.G. Sittenfeld, Greg Landsman and Chris Seelbach.

It describes the Democrats as “a cabal of five rogue members” of council holding illegal, secret meetings via email and text messages to discuss Mayor John Cranley asking then-City Manager Harry Black to resign.

Shrive said he was told by a city attorney Tuesday that Young said he purposely deleted most if not all of his text messages from his phone and Dennard claims she lost hers after dropping her phone in a pool several months ago, sometime in April.

Shrive wrote in a court filing Friday “it is believed that Young deleted the text messages after Oct. 23″ when Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman ordered the texts turned over to the court. That includes texts even exchanged between two council members, not only among the “Gang of Five” on their the secret text string.

The judge’s order states: “....the Court finds that all text messages and emails exchanged between the Defendants from January 1, 2018 through present are reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Therefore, the Defendants are to turn over all the text messages and emails that fall between those dates by November 2, 2018.”

The city solicitor filed an appeal to the judge’s order on the grounds it would force council members to turn over text messages and other communications that should be considered privileged and confidential between them and their lawyers, court records show.

Shrive said the city attorney told him Tuesday she only learned the text messages were gone 10 days ago.

It’s not clear why city lawyers represented to the First District Court of Appeals just one day prior, on Monday, they had turned over all the text messages.

The appeals court will privately review the messages. The texts will remain under seal until the court determines which, if any, are public records. It’s not clear when the appeals court may rule.

The messages are from March 1-19 relating to or regarding the former city manager and mayor.

Shrive said city attorneys told him they are working to recover the destroyed messages if possible.

“I am disappointed in the city’s decision to delay disclosing this to us,” Shrive told FOX19 NOW Saturday.

“Their delay has caused confusion in the courts and ultimately may prevent us from being able to obtain the text messages from other sources.”

The city solicitor could not be immediately reached for comment.

The city and/or Young and Dennard could be ordered by the court to pay penalties for failing retain the messages and/or follow Ohio’s public records law.

Destruction or damage of public records is subject to a fine of $1,000 to $10,00 per violation, state law shows.

Other sanctions could include a finding of contempt of court and in extreme instances, jail time, according to Shrive.

Since the lawsuit was filed, attorneys for the Gang have released several of the text messages they exchanged, but those were just ones in the group string, not ones exchanged between two council members.

The Gang also has admitted to texting other council members about the mayor and former city manager during City Council meetings, Shrive has said.

Council texts: Harry Black needs counseling, mayor ‘flat out lied’

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