DIPSHIDIOT CINCINNATI CITY COUNCILMAN ARRESTED
DIPSHIDIOT CINCINNATI CITY COUNCILMAN ARRESTED
FBI agents arrested Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld early Thursday on federal charges accusing him of accepting bribes in exchange for favorable votes on development deals.
Sittenfeld, a Democrat and the presumptive front-runner in next year’s mayoral election, becomes the third member of the city’s nine-member council to be arrested this year on bribery-related charges. He’s accused of bribery, wire fraud and attempted extortion and faces up to 20 years in prison if he’s convicted.
Diane Menashe, Sittenfeld’s attorney, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf in federal court Thursday afternoon.
Elected to council in 2011, Sittenfeld has amassed a campaign war chest of more than $710,000 on his way to becoming one of the city’s most popular and powerful politicians.
The charges against Sittenfeld, outlined in an indictment unsealed shortly after his arrest, accuse him of orchestrating a scheme to funnel money from developers into a political action committee (PAC) that he secretly controlled. According to the indictment, the developers were actually undercover FBI agents who handed Sittenfeld checks totaling $40,000 on three different occasions in 2018 and 2019.
READ INDICTMENT HERE:
The indictment states Sittenfeld solicited the money in exchange for his support of a plan to develop the former Convention Place Mall at 435 Elm St., which Cincinnati developer Chinedum Ndukwe, a former Bengals player, sought to develop as a hotel and office complex with sports betting.
Sittenfeld, 36, did not pocket the cash himself, the indictment states, but instead funneled it into the PAC, which he is not legally permitted to oversee himself. He also made clear in conversations with the undercover agents how they should donate the money, how much they should donate and what they could expect in return, federal prosecutors said.
“It’s all part of one scheme,” said U.S. Attorney David DeVillers, who will lead the prosecution of Sittenfeld. “The promises, the accepting of cash, the hiding of where it’s coming from.”
In his conversations with the undercover agents, the indictment states, Sittenfeld promised that his popularity among voters and his clout at City Hall could deliver them what they wanted.
CLAIMED ABLE TO GET VOTES NEEDED FOR A PRICE
“Don’t let these be my famous last words, but I can always get a vote to my left or a vote to my right,” Sittenfeld said in December 2018, according to the indictment.
In another conversation a month earlier, the indictment states, Sittenfeld said the donations and his support for the development project shouldn’t be considered a “quid pro quo,” but rather as an investment in his ability to deliver.
“These guys want to know, I mean look, people want to invest in a winning endeavor, right?” Sittenfeld said, according to the indictment. “I want to give them the confidence and the comfort that that’s what they’re doing.”
Federal prosecutors said Sittenfeld repeatedly made such assurances to the undercover agents, including in a November 2018 conversation, in which the indictment quotes Sittenfeld saying, “Look, I’m ready to shepherd the votes as soon as it gets to us at council.”
In another conversation quoted in the indictment, also in November 2018, Sittenfeld said: “I can deliver the votes.”
LONG INVESTIGATION AND MANY MEETINGS
DeVillers said the months-long investigation included multiple meetings at a Columbus hotel between Sittenfeld and the agents, as well as recordings of conversations, phone calls and text messages.
Sittenfeld’s arrest sent shockwaves through City Hall and immediately upended the mayor’s race next year. Fellow Democrat and rival mayoral candidate David Mann described the news as “sad, sad, sad.”
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to persuade the public that honest business can be done at city hall,” he said. “I just found out. I have to absorb this. I don’t get it. Why does anybody think these things happen without consequences?”
DeVillers said the charges against Sittenfeld are not directly related to those involving Democrat Tamaya Dennard and Republican Jeff Pastor, his two City Council colleagues who previously were charged this year with soliciting cash from developers in exchange for their votes. But Sittenfeld’s case is indirectly connected to Pastor’s, because both men are accused of seeking cash from Ndukwe for help with his project at 435 Elm.
PREVIOUSLY CAUGHT PEOPLE HELPED THE FBI
Prosecutors have previously said Ndukwe worked with the FBI as a cooperating witness, sharing information and working with the undercover agents as they interacted with Pastor. DeVillers said a similar scenario played out with Sittenfeld, though neither Sittenfeld nor Pastor knew about the other’s involvement.
“They were both drinking out of the same cup,” DeVillers said of Sittenfeld and Pastor. “But there’s no evidence they knew what the other was doing.”
The PAC at the heart of the charges against Sittenfeld is called Progress and Growth, a nod to Sittenfeld’s initials, “P.G.” As of Thursday, the PAC had collected about $90,000.
By law, PACs such as this may support candidates and collect donations at significantly higher levels than allowed for individual candidates, but they cannot be run by or connected to those candidates. The indictment states the Progress and Growth PAC was operated solely by Sittenfeld, which would be illegal.
The donations cited in the indictment were given around the same time the city was reforming campaign finance laws, reforms that included limiting the number of limited liability companies that can donate to a candidate.
SITTENFELD WAS REAL EAGER DUE TO LAW CHANGES
According to the indictment, Sittenfeld was eager to collect as many donations as he could before the law changed. At the same time, he was publicly supporting the new law, known as Issue 13, which voters approved in 2018.
Prosecutors said Sittenfeld touted the PAC as a way to funnel money to his campaign without drawing attention to him or to the donors.
“I do have a PAC that … no one’s like snooping around in who’s giving,” he told the undercover agents, according to the indictment. “Frankly, a lot of people don’t even know I have it.”
Prosecutors say Sittenfeld then directed the agents on how to donate to the PAC by setting up limited liability companies, which would then write checks to the PAC. “Nothing about it in any way will ever be connected to me and no one will, you know, no one’s going to be poking around for it to find your names on it,” the indictment quotes Sittenfeld as saying.
HE HAD FUTURE POLITICAL ASPERATIONS AND NEEDED FUNDS
At a press conference Thursday after Sittenfeld’s arrest, DeVillers said prosecutors believe Sittenfeld was “funding the war chest for later political endeavors.” He also repeated his previous criticism of the “culture of corruption” at City Hall, which he said deprives taxpayers of ethical representation and leads to distrust among citizens.
Corruption cases involving public officials and campaign money can be challenging to prosecute because they typically involve legal processes that prosecutors must prove have been corrupted by politicians or donors. In Sittenfeld’s case, DeVillers said, prosecutors do not need to prove an explicit quid pro quo, only that Sittenfeld knowingly and illegally manipulated the system for his own gain.
He said Sittenfeld led the alleged scheme through in-person meetings and conversations directing the undercover agents. He said it’s also important that Sittenfeld accepted the checks himself.
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