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WVXU has been covering the stories of politics and corruption at Cincinnati's City Hall since early 2020. We have now launched an initiative to more closely examine Cincinnati politics and the individuals who have shaped it, along with the current allegations of corruption. We'll also explore proposals for change, and seek feedback from local leaders and community members on what can be done to restore trust in City Hall.Trust in Local Government, WVXU's Public Integrity Project will analyze our council-manager form of government and the charter amendments designed to reinforce ethical standards at City Hall; take a historical look at corruption in Cincinnati government; talk with the candidates for Cincinnati mayor and continue with an ongoing series of features, interviews and candidate profiles.

Sittenfeld Asks To Unseal Full Conversations With Informants In Corruption Case

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Jay Hanselman
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P.G. Sittenfeld

Attorneys for suspended Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Wednesday filed a motion in U.S. District Court to unseal the entirety of taped conversations between him, undercover federal agents and an informant related to federal corruption charges.

The motion also alleges that federal authorities made false statements about the case when announcing it, potentially prejudicing a future jury.

David DeVillers, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, included parts from those conversations in the indictment against Sittenfeld.

That indictment alleges he received $40,000 in bribes from undercover agents and an FBI informant in 2018 and 2019 in exchange for favorable public policy actions on a Downtown development deal involving sports betting at 435 Elm Street.

"I can sit here and say, I can deliver the votes," Sittenfeld's indictment alleges he told undercover agents from whom he also solicited campaign donations to a PAC.

The full recorded conversations are under seal, however, and Sittenfeld's attorney Charlie Rittgers has called the parts included in the indictment "cherry-picked." 

"Mr. Sittenfeld has the right to present a complete defense," his attorneys wrote in a statement. "By cherry-picking excerpts from longer conversations, the government has misconstrued essential facts and limited access to evidence, which not only impacts the jury pool and potential defense witnesses but also compromises the integrity of our criminal justice system."

The filing includes several examples of longer exchanges between informants and Sittenfeld that his attorneys argue show more context and contradict the narrative laid out in federal authorites' indictment. In one of those exchanges, Sittenfeld mentions that the actions discussed are "in the city's best interest, too," a statement which the indictment omits.

The motion also alleges that federal authorities made misleading statements when announcing the charges against Sittenfeld to the press about the nature of the PAC that received the money.

"The government incorrectly stated on multiple occasions that Mr. Sittenfeld's Progress and Growth PAC was a 'secret,' 'against federal law,' and a 'slush fund,' " the statement continues. "Facts demonstrate that Mr. Sittenfeld's nonconnected Progress and Growth PAC was publicly and readily available to the government on the FEC website starting on February 5, 2018, well before the government initiated its undercover investigation of Mr. Sittenfeld."

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. 

Sittenfeld has not stepped down from his seat, but did Dec. 7 accept a suspension initiated by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. 

His arrest sent shockwaves through City Hall and upended the 2021 mayoral race, in which Sittenfeld had been seen as a favorite.

Sittenfeld was the third City Council member to be arrested on corruption charges last year after Tamaya Dennard in February and Jeff Pastor in November. Dennard pleaded guilty to honest wire services fraud in June and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. Pastor has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Authorities say the three cases are not connected, though the FBI informant, local developer and former Cincinnati Bengal Chinedum Ndukwe, is common to Pastor and Sittenfeld's cases.

Sittenfeld has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. Last month, Rittgers filed a motion to dismiss the case against Sittenfeld and asked for a hearing on that motion for Feb. 22.