CINCINNATI (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) - Federal prosecutors said Monday that P.G. Sittenfeld’s request to dismiss the charges he faces is “meritless” and appears to be at least partly based on a “misunderstanding of the law”, according to our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Last month, attorneys for the suspended Cincinnati city councilman asked a federal judge to take the unusual step of dismissing the indictment charging him with bribery, honest services wire fraud and attempted extortion.
But in documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, prosecutors said a jury should weigh the evidence, not the judge. An indictment doesn’t have to prove the case, they said.
“The request to usurp this process must be rejected,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors say the charges against Sittenfeld detail “a corruption scheme” in which he agreed to accept $40,000 to a political action committee (PAC) he controlled in exchange for his support of a Downtown development plan. Prosecutors said the money represented bribe payments.
In asking Judge Douglas Cole to dismiss the charges, Sittenfeld’s attorneys said the indictment described “an everyday American democratic activity.” Elected officials, they said, have always solicited money based on promises about what they intend to do. The allegations, his attorneys said, merely reflected Sittenfeld’s widely known record of being pro-development.
Prosecutors said Sittenfeld’s arguments appeared to be based on a “misunderstanding of the law – that because (he) purports to be ‘pro-development’ and because the payments went to his PAC rather than his pocket, he could not commit bribery.”
Prosecutors said previous court rulings have been clear: It’s not a defense to bribery that a public official would have done an official act, even without the payment. And receiving a bribe through a PAC is still corrupt, prosecutors said.
“Contrary to the Defendant’s claims, these actions are not ‘core features of our democratic system’ or ‘everyday American democratic activity,’ " prosecutors said. “This is bribery.”
The prosecution’s motion also includes a chart listing multiple paragraphs from the indictment that form the factual basis for honest services wire fraud charges. Sittenfeld, according to prosecutors, agreed to deliver enough votes to help the development project knowing he was being paid $20,000 for that official action. He then “later accepted additional payments to his PAC in return for continued support” for the project, the motion says.
In a statement, Sittenfeld’s attorney Charlie M. Rittgers said the allegations against Sittenfeld are false.
“The government distorts perfectly legal and routine activities elected officials engage in every day and mangles conversations to suit its false narrative,” Rittgers said. “It is deeply troubling that the government has attempted to bring a desperate and false case against an honest leader of our community. We are hopeful that once the court has considered fully the motion to dismiss, the matter will end.”
A hearing surrounding the motion to dismiss is set for Feb. 16.