CINCINNATI (FOX19) - As the next hearing approaches in the bribery case against suspended Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, his lawyers are continuing to challenge federal prosecutors in court filings.
“This is not an organized crime case involving cartels, gangs or the mob,” they wrote in the latest records this week.
Sittenfeld’s defense team continues to insist the facts in his indictment do not amount to crimes.
“For all six counts, the indictment alleges only that Mr. Sittenfeld engaged in customary political interactions,” the latest court documents, filed this week, state. “These facts fall well short of the necessary ‘explicit’ quid pro quo—i.e., the exchange of an identified official act for political contributions.”
Sittenfeld’s attorneys and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are scheduled to square off in person Feb. 16 as U.S District Court Judge Douglas Cole considers Sittenfeld’s request to throw out all charges and release all recordings undercover FBI agents made as part of their investigation.
Sittenfeld’s legal team says in court records filed Tuesday U.S. Attorney David DeVillers used incriminating “clickbait terms” about the contents of the tapes and quoted Sittenfeld from them out of context when DeVillers announced federal bribery charges against Sittenfeld during a news conference last year.
“Clickbait terms such as “culture of corruption,” “team America,” brave citizen,” and “drinking from the same cup” (referencing the unrelated indictment of councilman Jeff Pastor taking bribes for his own personal gain) are not part of the Indictment,” Sittenfeld’s attorneys wrote.
“The very nature of the terms used by DeVillers is pejorative and the terms served no other purpose than to inflame the passions of the public and to gain attention from the media. Words matter; especially when the statements are coming from the United States Attorney. In speaking with potential witnesses, defense counsel has noticed a chilling effect that the Government’s misstatements of fact and law have had on counsel’s ability to discuss this matter with the potential witnesses.”
Prosecutors contend in their own court filings the parts not quoted in the indictment are irrelevant and are not a defense to the alleged crimes.
In addition, Sittenfeld’s attorneys filed a motion on Wednesday to compel the government to turn over evidence saying it’s been more than 60 days since defense counsel requested full discovery.
The lengthy filing also includes what Sittenfeld’s team believes is evidence regarding the conduct of investigators.
“Information presently available to defense counsel primarily through their own preliminary investigation indicates that agents in this case committed violations of the Attorney General Guidelines on FBI Undercover Operations and Department of Justice ‘Ethics Handbook For On and Off-Duty Conduct,’ which directly relates to agent credibility and motivations in the operation,” the motion reads.
Specifically, the court documents allege undercover FBI agents and a cooperating witness in the case may have committed misconduct that includes giving “underage girls” liquor.
FOX19 NOW and other local media have filed a brief in support of the judge making all of Sittenfeld’s recordings public, so the media can accurately report about the case.
Sittenfeld is accused of taking contributions to his political action committee in exchange for his votes.
He was indicted in November on two counts each of honest services wire fraud, bribery and attempted extortion by a government official.
If convicted on all charges, he faces up to 50 years in prison.,
He has pleaded not guilty, is free on his recognizance and has repeatedly declared his innocence.
Until his arrest in November, the 36-year-old Democrat was considered by many to be the front-runner in Cincinnati’s 2021 mayor’s race.
That’s when he became third member of the nine-person council to be arrested in 2020 by the FBI and indicted on bribery, attempted extortion and other corruption-related charges for allegedly taking bribes for favorable votes on development deals.
Sittenfeld’s former colleague on council, Pastor, 37, a Republican, was indicted on similar charges just days before Sittenfeld’s arrest.
Pastor also agreed to a voluntary suspension and was replaced by fellow Republican Steve Goodin.
Republican Liz Keating was then appointed to Sittenfeld’s seat.
A third council member, Democrat Tamaya Dennard, 41, resigned from council in March 2020 after she was arrested the previous month.
She pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge and recently received a sentence of 18 months in prison.
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 | Former Cincinnati city councilwoman Tamaya Dennard apologizes in letter to judge | ‘There is more to this story:’ Pastor’s attorney raises questions on motives, evidence
Meanwhile, DeVillers announced Tuesday he has been asked to resign by Feb. 28.
The Justice Department asked all U.S. attorneys appointed by former President Trump to resign from their posts, as the Biden administration moves to transition to its own nominees, according to a senior justice official who spoke to the Associated Press.
DeVillers has been U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio since Nov 1. 2019.
The Southern District includes the metropolitan areas of Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton and 48 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
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