Vice Mayor calls for ‘forensic audit’ of council votes on development deals

Vice Mayor calls for ‘forensic audit’ of council votes on development deals
Cincinnati Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman (Source: Cara Owsley/The Enquirer)

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Cincinnati Vice Mayor and Council Member Chris Smitherman is asking for a “forensic audit” of all council votes on development deals over the past three years.

Smitherman, a political Independent who took himself out of the running for mayor earlier this year, requested the audit in a statement released Thursday evening, hours after P.G. Sittenfeld was arrested in a public corruption investigation.

Deals passed since 2017 include (but are not limited to:)

  • FCC Cincinnati’s West End Stadium;
  • The ICON Music Venue at The Banks and the relocation of Hilltop Concrete;
  • The Cincinnati Ballet’s practice facility on Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills;
  • Three Downtown residential towers: 4th and Race, 8th and Main and Court and Walnut;
  • Two Downtown multifamily developments, one at 12th and Sycamore, the other on Pete Rose Way by the Purple People Bridge;
  • UC’s massive uptown innovation district and the surrounding developments at Martin Luther King and Reading Road; and
  • The redevelopment of Deaconness Hospital.

Smitherman does not accuse specific council votes of occurring below board, nor is there any suggestion of specific development deals being passed unscrupulously.

“I look forward to the outcome of the audit,” Smitherman said. “It will be necessary to communicate those results to the citizens as the first step in restoring their trust and confidence in the workings of the City Council. We will pursue additional steps toward restoring public confidence after the depth of the corruption has been revealed.”

Sittenfeld, 36, was indicted Thursday on two counts of honest services wire fraud, two counts of bribery and two counts of attempted extortion by a government official. He pleaded not guilty in a brief court appearance.

Federal officials say Sittenfeld accepted contributions to a PAC he controlled from undercover federal agents disguised as developers. The agents allege those contributions, each permissible in themselves, were in exchange for Sittenfeld’s support for, and actions to advance, the redevelopment of the former Convention Place Mall on Elm Street.

Smitherman’s statement also mentions two other members of city council arrested on corruption charges.

Council Member Jeff Pastor was arrested Nov. 10 on felony charges of bribery, extortion, wire fraud, money laundering and other crimes. Undercover federal agents posed as developers working on the same Convention Place Mall project.

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.

Chris Hoffman, Special-Agent-in-Charge of the Cincinnati office of the FBI, 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.

Council Member Tamaya 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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