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Federal Judge Refuses To Dismiss Sittenfeld Corruption Charges

A federal judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss corruption charges against suspended Cincinnati City Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld.

In a 43-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Douglass R. Cole batted away a motion filed last December by Sittenfeld's legal team asking to dismiss those charges. 

Then-U.S. Attorney David DeVillers alleged in an indictment last November that Sittenfeld accepted $40,000 in checks from undercover FBI agents and a federal informant in exchange for favorable public policy action on a downtown development. 

Sittenfeld's attorneys have contested several elements of the indictment and the way it was rolled out, saying that key quotes in recorded conversations between Sittenfeld and FBI agents were "cherry picked."

"The factual allegations show that Mr. Sittenfeld did not engage in any quid pro quo agreement," Sittenfeld's 20-page December filing reads. "He did not promise to exchange official actions for political contributions or understand that he was expected to alter his official conduct because of those contributions. To the contrary, Mr. Sittenfeld affirmed his widely known, longstanding pro-development positions in the same conversations where undercover agents, posing as investors in an attempted sting, offered or provided contributions to his lawful, federally regulated political action committee. His alleged conduct is not a crime; it is a core feature of our democratic system."

Judge Cole, however, did not buy these and other arguments. 

"In sum, the Court concludes that the Indictment adequately alleges a quid pro quo," he wrote in his Tuesday filing. "...the Court concludes that standard is met here. That is not to say that a jury will find a quid pro quo, even if the allegations prove true. But there appear to be sufficient facts, if true, to allow a jury to make such a finding, and in any event the government has asserted that more is forthcoming."

After a lengthy investigation over the last two years, a federal grand jury agreed to charge Sittenfeld with two counts each of honest service wire fraud, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and attempted extortion by a government official. Federal agents arrested him at his home Nov. 19.

The arrest sent shockwaves through City Hall. Sittenfeld was the third City Council member to be arrested on corruption charges last year.

Federal agents arrested Council Member Jeff Pastor just nine days prior to Sittenfeld. Pastor allegedly solicited $55,000 from the same developer involved in Sittenfeld's case, former Cincinnati Bengal Chinedum Ndukwe. DeVillers has said that Ndukwe was working with the FBI on both investeigations, but that Pastor and Sittenfeld's cases are otherwise unrelated. Pastor has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Authorities arrested former Council Member Tamaya Dennard in February on unrelated corruption charges. She resigned from council in March and pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud June 29 in connection to money she solicited from a whistleblower working with the FBI for favorable votes on riverfront development at The Banks. A federal judged sentenced Dennard to 18 months in federal prison Nov. 24.

Sittenfeld has not resigned from his council seat, but he did on Dec. 7 accept a suspension initiated by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. Ohio law dictated that Hamilton County Probate Court Judge Ralph Winkler pick Sittenfeld's replacement. Winkler chose Republican Liz Keating for the seat.

Sittenfeld, once a top contender in Cincinnati's 2021 mayoral race, announced late last month he would not file to run for that position. 

Sittenfeld's legal team today released a statement expressing disappointment with Judge Cole's ruling.

"As the Judge reminded the community, these charges are only allegations, and the law on dismissing cases at this stage favors the government," the statement says. "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."

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