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P.G. Sittenfeld’s defense wants to keep former employee from testifying at corruption trial

P.G. Sittenfeld’s defense wants to keep former employee from testifying at corruption trial
Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 6:12 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - The legal team defending former Cincinnati City Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld against corruption charges doesn’t want his “disgruntled former employee” testifying at his upcoming corruption trial, newly filed court records show.

The former worker is described as “J.K.” in a defense motion.

Prosecutors intend to have “J.K.” testify about specific campaigning techniques and fundraising strategies of Sittenfeld and his campaign advisors, court records show.

“J.K., like many of the government’s witnesses in this case, entered into a proffer agreement with the government after the F.B.I. learned of criminal acts by J.K. According to that proffer, J.K. can still be indicted for his criminal behavior,” the motion states.

“J.K. is also a disgruntled former employee of Mr. Sittenfeld. J.K. was fired after Mr. Sittenfeld discovered J.K. acted dishonestly. Mr. Sittenfeld was unaware of J.K.’s criminal actions, which were unrelated to his employment with Mr. Sittenfeld, or J.K.’s proffer agreement with the government when his employment was terminated.

“Based on the proffer and evidence submitted to Mr. Sittenfeld regarding J.K., the government intends to call J.K. to testify to specific campaigning techniques and fundraising strategies of Mr. Sittenfeld and his campaign advisors.

“The recently disclosed evidence made it clear that the government’s undercover agents did not understand campaign finance laws. Furthermore, it is apparent that the undercover agents were unaware that it is lawful to receive donations from donors that have or are likely to have business in front of the politician seeking donations. Not only is this practice legal, it is commonplace in our form of representative government, not just in Cincinnati but across the country.”

Allowing “J.K.” to testify would be unfairly prejudicial, Sittenfeld’s defense says, and prosecutors disclosed it to them too late.

Sittenfeld’s attorneys wrote in court records that federal officials only notified them via overnight mail late Friday, May 20, which they received Monday, May 23, of more than 2,200 pages of additional evidence the government plans to use at the trial including digital, audio and video files “not previously disclosed.”

“J.K.” was not listed in the government’s notice in April that disclosed witnesses,” the defense motion states.

Federal prosecutors contended in a court filing Tuesday there’s no legal reason to prevent “J.K.” from testifying. They also noted they turned over most of the evidence months ago.

“J.K.” will testify that Sittenfeld intentionally targeted donors with business before the city for campaign contributions, they wrote.

“To the extent the government calls J.K. at trial, this individual will testify as a fact witness, describing firsthand personal knowledge relating to PAC checks the defendant received from the (undercover agents) in this case .. this is direct evidence relating to the bribe payments at issue,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Singer wrote in the motion.

Prosecutors have asked the judge to stop the defense’s two expert witnesses from testifying during the trial: Caleb Burns, a Washington, D.C. campaign finance attorney, and Edward Fitzgerald, a former FBI agent and 2014 Democratic nominee for Ohio governor.

These are among several motions that could come up Wednesday morning during Sittenfeld’s final pretrial conference before his trial begins June 21.

It’s not clear when U.S. District Court Judge Douglas R. Cole could issue orders on all the motions.

Sittenfeld’s trial is expected to last three to four weeks, one of his attorneys told FOX19 NOW.

A multi-count indictment against Sittenfeld, a Democrat, in November 2020 effectively halted the once mayoral front-runner’s political career, at least for now.

Sittenfeld is charged with honest services wire fraud, bribery and attempted extortion by a government official.

Federal officials say he promised support for development deals in exchange for $40,000 in donations to his political action fund (PAC).

He has maintained his innocence from the start. The plan is to “fight it until the very end,” Sittenfeld told FOX19 NOW outside the federal courthouse last year.

Sittenfeld is one of three Cincinnati City Council members who were indicted in 2020 in what prosecutors allege is a pay-to-play scheme exchanging votes for cash or PAC contributions.

Sittenfeld’s former colleague on council, Jeff Pastor a Republican, was indicted on similar charges just days before Sittenfeld’s arrest.

Pastor has pleaded not guilty. His case recently was delayed while he looked for a new lawyer after his former one was temporarily suspended from practicing law in both Ohio and Kentucky.

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, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and reported to one in West Virginia on June 1, 2021.

Dennard was released early to a halfway house recently and is scheduled to be fully released later this month, on June 12.

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