CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Reaction Thursday to the arrest of Cincinnati City Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld on federal corruption charges was just as swift as similar calls for Councilman Jeff Pastor when he was indicted on similar charges just nine days ago.
Sittenfeld’s indictment directly related to his elected office is tragic, and he must immediately resign to begin to restore public trust in City Hall, Mayor John Cranley and fellow council members said.
Federal authorities allege the Democrat, 36, schemed to funnel money from developers into a political action committee that he secretly controlled, court records show.
The “developers” were really undercover FBI agents who handed a total of $40,000 in Sittenfeld checks on three different occasions, according to the indictment.
Sittenfeld is running against Councilman David Mann to be Cincinnati’s mayor and considered by some as the front runner with more than $700,000 raised for the race, according to his latest campaign finance report on file.
He is now, however, the third Cincinnati City Council member arrested on corruption charges this year, and the second one in just a little over a week.
“It’s hard not to argue there is a culture of corruption at City Council,” Mayor Cranley said at a news conference Thursday night.
“Obviously anyone who is facing such serious allegations owes it to the community to resign,” Councilman David Mann told FOX19 Now in an interview Thursday morning.
Though some of the charges are similar among the three council members who have been arrested, the mayor said Sittenfeld’s stands out.
He said it “seems to be an attempt to accumulate power for power’s sake.”
The other two council members who were charged, Pastor and now former-Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard, Cranley said appear to have been motivated by a desperate need for cash.
Cincinnati Vice Mayor Chris Smitherman initially declined to comment on Sittenfeld’s arrest. He remained mum when Pastor was charged, too.
He changed his mind by Thursday night and called for not only Sittenfeld’s resignation, he also said there should be an audit of the city’s development deals for the past three years.
“After careful review of the federal; indictment, and carefully reading the allegations of the complaint there is no question that they are strong and credible. With regret I now formally call on Councilman Sittenfeld to resign,” Smitherman said in a tweet.
Councilwoman Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney said in a statement she wouldn’t comment on any allegations “because I don’t know the facts first-hand, and as an American, I believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”
Her statement also said:
“Since being appointed to City Council in March, I have gained an enormous amount of respect and admiration for every member of Cincinnati City Council because of their passion for making Cincinnati better and their hard work during these months of turmoil and struggle in our country, and in our City,” she said.
“To the people of Cincinnati, I want you to know that it is an honor to serve you, and City Council will continue to work for you – to make sure your voices are heard, and that we are helping to make your community and your lives better. We don’t always get it right, nor do we move as quickly as it seems we need to in many cases, but we go to bed every night and wake up every morning with the same thoughts we carry throughout the day: How can we serve you better? What strategies and policies can we put in place to allow everyone to succeed in life? And yes, trust is something that must be earned. We will work to earn back your trust in us. We are all hurting now, but joy cometh in the morning.”
Hamilton County Democrat Chairwoman Gwen McFarlin said in a separate statement the allegations raised against Sittenfeld are significant and serious.
“Councilmember Sittenfeld deserves the due process afforded to all our citizens and should be able to respond to these charges brought against him,” she said.
“If the allegations are true, Mr. Sittenfeld should step down from elected office.”
Federal authorities recently revealed in court records they were investigating corruption and bribery related to votes and development projects and said more prosecutions were coming.
U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said at a news conference last week that accepting campaign donations in exchange for favors also violates federal law.
Pastor was arrested Tuesday, Nov. 10 on felony charges of bribery, extortion, wire fraud, money laundering, and other crimes.
Dennard was arrested in February on charges she accepted bribes for her vote.
She resigned in March, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and will be sentenced Nov. 24.
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