Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young’s attorney: ‘I expect charges to be filed today’

Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young’s attorney: ‘I expect charges to be filed today’
Councilman Wendell Young (FOX19 NOW)

CINCINNATI (FOX19 - The attorney for Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young tells FOX19 NOW he anticipates charges against Young Thursday.

A special prosecutor has been investigating whether to criminally charge Young and four current and/or now-former Cincinnati City Council members over text messages they exchanged in 2018, secretly deciding public city business.

On Wednesday, the special prosecutor, Patrick Hanley, told FOX19 NOW Young rejected a plea deal.

“I can’t tell you what that plea deal is, but he can do whatever he wants. He rejected a plea deal. That’s sort of accurate,” Hanley said.

Young’s attorney told us Thursday morning: “After talking to Pat yesterday, I anticipate charges to be filed today but you would have to confirm that with him. You can quote me, but Wendell will not be giving interviews.”

Croswell then added: “I assume that this will come to a conclusion today one way or the other. I don’t even know that he is going to file charges. That’s all I know.”

Croswell said Hanley did not discuss potential charges with him.

“I don’t think it’s political,” Croswell said. “There are political aspects of it, but I don’t believe the prosecutor is acting politically. Obviously, politics surround this whole thing, but I don’t think the prosecutor is acting politically. I don’t believe my client has committed a criminal offense, but that’s why we have trials.”

Hanley could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

He recently told FOX19 NOW his investigation was wrapping up.

Hanley, a former federal prosecutor, has repeatedly declined to elaborate on his investigation or to say if he has a grand jury going to hear evidence in the case or plans to soon, if he plans to try to indict anyone and, if so, on what charge or charges.

Few details have been released so far about what, if anything, is happening because proceedings have been secret since Hanley was appointed to investigate in late 2019.

In September 2020, Hanley informed Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters he wouldn’t prosecute Cincinnati City Council’s so-called “Gang of Five” on a misdemeanor charge of dereliction of duty that Ohio Auditor Keith Faber recommended over the texting scandal.

But, he wrote in his letter to Deters, the investigation was continuing.

A Hamilton County judge appointed Hanley to handle the case after Faber’s recommendation to avoid conflicts of interest with city and county prosecutors.

FOX19 NOW media partner Cincinnati Enquirer reported Wednesday Young told them he was offered a deal to plead guilty to criminal charges in the “Gang of Five” texting case but he declined the offer because it was “ridiculous.”

The Enquirer also reports Young acknowledged for the first time publicly that he’s the focus of an ongoing special investigation into text messages among five Democratic council members.

Young didn’t detail the terms of the deal he was offered about three weeks ago.

“They wanted me to do something I just couldn’t do,” he told the Enquirer.

Young, in the final year of his council term, added: “I am a politician. This is a seamy and dirty side of politics.” When asked to elaborate, Young declined.

Told of Young’s remarks to the Enquirer on Wednesday, his attorney responded: “I don’t know what Wendell said.”

Croswell also said Wednesday:

“I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t know. Everybody is telling me he is going to be indicted today. I don’t know. I am saying to you I honestly don’t know. I don’t even know for a fact that they are going to present it to a grand jury. I don’t know that there was a plea deal. There were discussions.”

Croswell said he’s waiting to see what happens.

“You have my absolute word that I am just waiting like you are and I don’t have anymore of a clue what’s happening or when it’s going to happen than you do.”

Young was appointed to Cincinnati City Council in June of 2010, filling the vacancy left by Councilmember Laketa Cole. He has won election three times since.

The lifelong city resident grew up in Avondale, where he attended Cincinnati Public Schools, graduating from Hughes High School in 1963, according to his biography on the city’s website.

After graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, serving until honorably discharged in January 1967. He returned home and joined the Cincinnati Police Department, where he rose to the rank of sergeant.

More recently, Young was one of the five council members known as the “Gang of Five” after they were named in a 2018 lawsuit by an anti-tax activist.

The suit sought their private text messages and emails to prove they were privately conducting publicly city business in violation of state law.

The suit was settled for $101,000 in 2019 with Young and fellow council members Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman, P.G. Sittenfeld and Tamaya Dennard admitted they violated Ohio Open Meetings Act.

The text messages also were released as part of the settlement.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman, who approved the settlement, told them they should resign.

The judge considered and then decided against a contempt of court charge for Young after Young deleted text messages off his cell phone that were evidence in the lawsuit.

Investigators with the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office examined Wendell Young’s at least twice and could not determine when the messages were deleted - before or after a judge’s order to retain them.

There’s “not enough evidence to find him in contempt. I think it’s important to just bring this all out. Important to explain to the public and press all of what happened,” Ruehlman said during a hearing on the matter in May 2019.

“I’m not looking to throw him in work for the public, you don’t work for yourself and you have a duty to serve the public. The people of the city can make their own decisions.”

In all, the Gang of Five situation cost the city $176,000 including the settlement money and outside legal costs, city records show.

Hanley recently confirmed he is paid $250 an hour to work as a part-time special prosecutor.

The cost of his bill so far to taxpayers for this case was not immediately available Wednesday.

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