CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was arrested at his house early Thursday on federal corruption-related charges.
Sittenfeld, 36, was indicted on two counts of honest services wire fraud, two counts of bribery and two counts of attempted extortion by a government official.
The Democrat is now the third council member to be indicted this year on allegations he solicited money in exchange for favors or votes related to his public office and the second one in the past nine days.
Sittenfeld made a brief virtual court appearance at 1:30 p.m. He was released on his own recognizance pending the outcome of his trial and ordered to surrender his passport and not travel outside the region.
A 20-page indictment says Sittenfeld allegedly accepted eight checks totaling $40,000 in exchange for specific action in his role as a city official.
Federal officials outlined their case against him at a news conference in which they alleged he was funneling campaign contributions from developers into a political action committed (PAC) he controlled and used as “a political slush fund.”
Those “developers” were really federal agents, they say.
According to the indictment, Sittenfeld accepted bribe money in 2018 and 2019, while promising to “deliver the votes” and perform other official action with respect to a development project before city council.
Specifically, in November and December 2018, Sittenfeld promised he could “deliver the votes” in city council to support a development project in exchange for four $5,000 contributions to his PAC, the indictment states.
It is alleged that Sittenfeld again corruptly accepted four $5,000 checks in September and October 2019.
For example, the indictment details that in November 2018, Sittenfeld indicated to undercover agents posing as investors that he would shepherd votes for the development project.
He allegedly presented voting data showing that he is politically popular throughout Cincinnati and said he is likely to be the next mayor. Sittenfeld said, “I can move more votes than any other single person…,” according to the indictment. He allegedly reiterated in December 2018, “don’t let these be my famous last words, but I can always get a vote to my left or a vote to my right.”
Over the next several months, it also is alleged Sittenfeld told the investors he was continuing to apply pressure, and promised to apply additional pressure, to public officials relating to their agreement involving the development project.
Sittenfeld is running 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.
Federal authorities recently revealed they were investigating corruption and bribery related to votes and development projects in Cincinnati and they still had more prosecutions to do.
U.S. Attorney David DeVillers specifically said at a news conference last week that accepting campaign donations in exchange for favors also violates federal law.
The allegations against Sittenfeld are similar to the ones facing two of his colleagues: Jeff Pastor and Tamaya Dennard.
Pastor was arrested Tuesday, Nov. 10 on felony charges of bribery, extortion, wire fraud, money laundering and other crimes.
His attorney, former federal prosecutor Ben Dusing, has said Pastor will fight the charges and suggested Pastor may have evidence of his own showing entrapment.
Dennard also was arrested in February on charges she accepted bribes for her vote on a development deal.
She resigned in March, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and will be sentenced Nov. 24.
Several of Pastor’s fellow council members including Sittenfeld and other leaders throughout the region and state have called on him to also resign.
So far, he has not.
Now, those calls include Sittenfeld.
It’s not clear yet if he will heed his own advice when he called for Pastor to be replaced.
Sittenfeld’s mayorial opponent, Councilman David Mann, told FOX19 NOW Thursday Sittenfeld should step down for the good of the voters he was elected to serve.
“Obviously anyone who is facing such serious allegations owes it to the community to resign,” he said.
At the request of Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has asked the state’s top court to begin the process to suspend Pastor.
It was not immediately clear Thursday if Yost will now seek Sittenfeld’s suspension, too.
On Wednesday, a group of Republicans including State Rep. Tom Brinkman and four other Cincinnati voters sued in Hamilton County Probate Court to force Pastor to resign.
The same group sued earlier this year to force Dennard out when she did not initially resign following her arrest.
They could file again as soon as next week to try to oust Sittenfeld.
Councilwoman Betsy Sundermann posted a Twitter poll on Wednesday asking who would be indicted next.
It appears to have since been deleted.
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