CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was arrested at his house early Thursday as federal officials revealed the latest allegations of their ongoing investigation into what they say is a “culture of corruption” at City Hall.
Sittenfeld, 36, is the third of council’s nine members be arrested on corruption charges this year, and the second in the past nine days alone.
He was the youngest person to serve on council when he began in 2011 and is now running for mayor. Campaign records show he has amassed more than $731,182.79 for his campaign.
A federal grand jury charged the Democrat Wednesday in a six-count indictment unsealed Thursday.
Sittenfeld faces two counts of honest services wire fraud, two counts of bribery and two counts of attempted extortion by a government official.
Federal prosecutors said they were not seeking to detain Sittenfeld pending the outcome of his case.
He was released on his own recognizance during a brief initial appearance virtually in federal court. He pleaded not guilty and agreed to surrender his passport and not travel outside the region.
The 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, saying 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, according to court records.
The indictment states Sittenfeld solicited the money in exchange for his support to develop the former Convention Place Mall on Elm Street in downtown Cincinnati that a former Cincinnati Bengals player turned developer, Chinedum Ndukwe, envisions as a hotel and office complex with sports betting.
He also made clear to the undercover agents how to donate the money, how much and what they would get in return, federal official.
U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said Sittenfeld told the undercover agents $5,000 was the maximum that could go in the PAC and not be traced back to him and directed them to use different LLCs to pay the money so it could not be traced back to them.
“I’m doing this right and I also want to protect you guys,” the indictment quotes Sittenfeld saying.
Sittenfeld also assured undercover agents he could get votes, according to the indictment, telling them, “Look, I’m ready to shepherd the votes as soon as it gets to us at council.”
In another exchange, the indictment quotes Sittenfeld saying of donations and his support: “you know, obviously nothing can be illegal like....illegally nothing can be a quid, quid pro quo. And I know that’s not what you’re saying either. But what I can say is that I’m always super pro-development and revitalization of especially our urban core.”
Sittenfeld went on, the indictment reads: And we, we, we, we can discuss that more in person. But I’m not, I’m not sure; in seven years I’ve voted in favor of every single development deal that’s ever been put in front of me.”
He also allegedly said, according to the indictment: “These guys want to know, I mean look, people want to invest in a winning endeavor, right? I want to give them the confidence and the comfort that that’s what they’re doing.”
These are similar charges federal authorities recently announced against one of his colleagues on council, Jeff Pastor, but the cases occurred without the men knowing what the other was doing, creating what officials have repeatedly said is a “culture of corruption.”
Chris Hoffman, Special-Agent-in-Charge of the FBI office in Cincinnati, said they wanted to present both Pastor and Sittenfeld cases to a grand jury at the same time, but were unable to due to COVID restrictions.
“Is this an indication of a deeper problem? I think it is,” he said.
In addition to Sittenfeld and Pastor now, former City Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard also 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.
Several of Pastor’s colleagues on council and throughout the region and state have called on him to also resign.
He has not so far.
Those calls now include Sittenfeld.
Should Sittenfeld step down, he already has selected which his colleagues to pick his replacement.
Council members make those designations in writing when they are sworn in.
Sittenfeld’s choices are from January 2018. The first person on his list is, ironically, Dennard, who is now gone.
State officials could soon initiate suspension proceedings against Sittenfeld.
At the request of Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Monday asked the Ohio Supreme Court to begin the process to suspend Pastor.
On Wednesday, a group of Republicans including State Rep. Tom Brinkman and four other Cincinnati voters sued in Hamilton County Probate Court to expel Pastor from office. A trial is set for Nov. 30.
His attorney, Ben Dusing, has said Pastor will fight the charges and suggested Pastor may have evidence of his own showing entrapment.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Betsy Sundermann posted a Twitter poll on Wednesday asking who would be indicted next.
The tweet has since been deleted.
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