Judge rejects P.G. Sittenfeld’s request to dismiss corruption-related charges
CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A federal judge has denied a request from the legal team for suspended city councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld to drop all corruption-related charges.
This means the case will proceed and appears headed for a jury trial.
“The issue currently before the Court is not whether Alexander (“P.G.”) Sittenfeld is innocent or guilty of the charges against him. Indeed, all agree that Sittenfeld is presumed innocent at this stage,” U.S. District Court Judge Douglas R. Cole wrote in his 43-page order.
“Today’s issue is narrower and more technical—namely, whether the Court should dismiss the Indictment against him on the grounds that it ‘fail[s] to state an offense.’ For the reasons below, the Court concludes that the Indictment does state an offense, and thus DENIES Sittenfeld’s Amended Motion to Dismiss the Indictment.”
Sittenfeld must show that the statutes failed to put him on ‘sufficient warning’ that his alleged conduct was illegal, Cole elaborated in the order.
“He has not made that showing. He hasn’t even really attempted to do so, and the Court doubts he could,” the judge wrote.
“To be sure, courts are still working out the full contours of the public corruption statutes, and there will always be close cases. But the Indictment here alleges an explicit quid pro that consists of accepting campaign contributions in exchange for specific official action. Again, these are just allegations. But if there is one thing that everyone knows federal bribery law prohibits, it is agreeing to undertake official action in exchange for campaign contributions.”
Sittenfeld, 36, a Democrat, was indicted on two counts each of honest services wire fraud, bribery, and attempted extortion by a government official in Nov. 2020.
He is one of three Cincinnati City Council Members indicted in the past year in what prosecutors alleged is a pay-to-pay scheme exchanging votes for cash or PAC contributions.
“We are disappointed in this result at this early motion to dismiss stage. As the Judge reminded the community, these charges are only allegations,” said Sittenfeld’s Attorney Charles M. Rittgers.
“PG is innocent of these charges. This is a misguided case against an honest public servant who accepted legitimate contributions to his legitimate PAC. We will continue to fight to establish his innocence,” Rittgers added.
Reached for comment, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Vipal J. Palel reiterated a statement his office provided when he took over Monday after David DeVillers resigned Friday.
“I said yesterday that our casework would continue uninterrupted and I meant it. I will let our court filings in this case speak for themselves.”
DeVillers tweeted a one-word reaction to the decision from his new Twitter account: “Shocker.”
According to the indictment, Sittenfeld accepted bribe money in 2018 and 2019 while promising to “deliver the votes” and perform other official actions with respect to a development project before city council.
Sittenfeld’s legal team maintains the indictment actually shows he did not engage in a quid pro quo agreement.
They say Sittenfeld has always been pro-development and that his actions represented typical business as is conducted by politicians.
Federal prosecutors argue a jury should decide the case. They also have said the government has more evidence than what was presented in the indictment.
Sittenfeld agreed to a voluntary suspension from office pending the outcome of the charges against him.
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