Gang of Five: Wendell Young rejected plea deal, special prosecutor says

Gang of Five: Wendell Young rejected plea deal, special prosecutor says
Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young (Source: Liz Dufour/Cincinnati Enquirer)

CINCINNATI (FOX19 - The special prosecutor investigating whether to criminally charge five current and former Cincinnati City Council members over their text messages says one of them, Wendell Young, rejected a plea deal.

“He did reject 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,” Patrick Hanley said.

He declined all further comment.

Earlier Wednesday, Young’s attorney would only say he has talked with Hanley “about potential resolutions.”

“I had ongoing discussions with the special prosecutor in this case as I would with any special prosecutor in any case involving my client,” Scott Croswell said. “There were discussions about potential resolutions and could we come to an appropriate resolution.

“In any case like this there’s discussions, OK, but it never came to fruition that people agreed to anything or disagreed to anything.”

He would not discuss what criminal charge or charge may have been discussed or say if Young was the focus of the probe or if a plea deal was offered.

Hanley, recently told FOX19 NOW his investigation was nearing the end.

He has repeatedly declined to elaborate on the probe 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, in fact, 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.

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

Hanley declined to prosecute on Faber’s recommended charge of dereliction of duty but informed Deters last fall his investigation was continuing.

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

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

Croswell then said:

“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 the following year with Young and fellow council members Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman, P.G. Sittenfeld and Tamaya Dennard admitted they violated Ohio Open Meetings Act.

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

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

Ruehlman 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.

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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