Judge signs off on P.G. Sittenfeld’s suspension from Cincinnati City Council
CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A federal judge has signed off on Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld’s voluntary suspension from office pending the outcome of federal bribery charges against him.
U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Cole accepted Sittenfeld’s suspension in court records filed Monday, according to copies released Wednesday by Hamilton County Probate Court.
Effective immediately, Sittenfeld is “prohibited from performing any and all official duties” as a member of council, a copy of the document shows.
The voluntary suspension is not an admission of guilt, the record states.
Hamilton County Probate Court Judge Ralph Winkler will select Sittenfeld’s replacement next week, according to a news release from his office. A review of applicants is ongoing now.
Sittenfeld is the third member of the nine-person council charged by the FBI this year for allegedly taking bribes for favorable votes on development deals amid what federal officials say is a “culture of corruption.”
His suspension comes after Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sought it in light of his arrest last month.
The 36-year-old Democrat was considered by many to be the front-runner in Cincinnati’s 2021 mayor’s race with more than $700,000 amassed in his campaign war chest.
He now faces a six-count indictment on charges of honest services wire fraud, bribery, and attempted extortion by a government official.
Specifically, Sittenfeld is accused of taking $40,000 in bribes that went into a political action committee (PAC) that he secretly controlled, prosecutors wrote in his indictment.
It accuses him of accepting 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.
In November 2018, according to the indictment, 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, federal authorities say 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 has said he is fighting the allegations. In a video tweeted out Monday, he announced he was temporarily stepping aside to “aggressively pursue clearing my name and after achieving justice then immediately resume my seat on city council and my service to our city.”
If convicted on all charges, the East Walnut Hills married father with a young son faces a maximum of 50 years in prison.
Sittenfeld has pleaded not guilty and is free on his own recognizance.
RELATED | Time to clean house’: Cincinnati’s mayor calls for P.G. Sittenfeld to resign | Vice Mayor calls for ‘forensic audit’ of council votes on development deals | Jeff Pastor to take voluntary suspension from council amid federal charges | Tamaya Dennard sentenced in Cincinnati City Council corruption case
In a statement, Hamilton County Party Democratic Chairwoman Gwen McFarlin said earlier this week the party was “disappointed” with Sittenfeld’s decision.
“While P.G. Sittenfeld deserves the chance to respond to the charges brought against him, we are extremely disappointed he accepted a suspension rather than resigning. As a result of his unfortunate decision, his fellow Democrats on Cincinnati City Council cannot name his replacement who will serve many months of his remaining term,” McFarlin said in the statement.
Sittenfeld is now the second currently suspended member of Cincinnati City Council.
Jeff Pastor also recently accepted a voluntary suspension following his arrest.
Pastor, 37, a Republican, was indicted just days before Sittenfeld on several similar charges.
Now-former Councilwoman Tamaya resigned in March and recently received a sentence of 18 months in prison for a wire fraud charge.
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