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No Criminal Charges For Council's 'Gang Of Five'

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For now, special prosecutor is not bringing any criminal charges against four current and one former Cincinnati council members who were accused of violating Ohio's Open Meetings Act.

Attorney Patrick Hanley was asked to investigate whether the five should be prosecuted for dereliction of duty.

Hanley sent a letter to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters Monday with his decision. Deters had asked that a special prosecutor be appointed.

"After considering this particular matter at length, I have concluded that such a criminal charge against the five council members, P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman, Tamaya Dennard, and Wendell Young, is not warranted and therefore decline prosecution," Hanley wrote.

But he ended his letter with "the investigation is ongoing."

Hanley's investigation came upon the recommendation of Ohio Auditor Keith Faber who reviewed the actions of the five council members.

The five admitted to violating the act last year.

The case stemmed from text messages exchanged between the group in 2018 in which they discussed and made decisions about city business.

Seelbach's attorney, Tom Hodges, said in a statement that the matter "should now be put behind us."

"They have apologized for and learned from their mistake," Hodges wrote. "Cincinnati is facing four crises all at once - a pandemic, a recession, a movement for greater racial justice, and the spike in crime. That's what our community is concerned about and that's what our leaders are focused on. I have spoken to Mr. Hanley and this is over."

The city paid $101,000 to settle the case, including $90,000 for plaintiff attorneys' fees and $11,000 for fines.

The city also spent $75,000 for two outside law firms to handle the case against the council members until the city solicitor's office resumed representing them.

Judge Robert Ruehlman in March 2018 said the five council members should resign and reimburse what the city spent on their behalf.

Tamaya Dennard resigned from City Council in March 2019 after being arrested on federal charges of extortion, bribery and wire fraud for allegedly offering to exchange her votes on council for money.

In June, a plea deal was announced in her case and Dennard agreed to plead guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud.  She's set to be sentenced for that charge in November.