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Sittenfeld Attorneys Allege Federal Agent Misconduct In Investigation

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Courtesy of WCPO

Attorneys for suspended Cincinnati Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld alleged in a filing Wednesday that federal agents engaged in misconduct while conducting an investigation that led to corruption charges against him.

Most of the specific allegations of misconduct are redacted in the filing, which asks U.S. District Court Judge Douglas R. Cole to order the release of "significant quantities of purposely withheld evidence" Sittenfeld attorney Charlie Rittgers alleges federal authorities have not yet turned over.

One allegation is spelled out in the filing, however: a claim that the FBI informant in the case attended a party at a penthouse rented by undercover agents with young women who "appeared" to be drinking underage.

The allegations are the latest in a flurry of filings between federal authorities and Sittenfeld's attorneys in the case, which began when Sittenfeld was indicted last November.

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.

But Sittenfeld's attorneys say his comments were taken out of context and misrepresented by federal authorities. Sittenfefld was already supportive of the developments being discussed, they say, and the money donated to the PAC in question was listed on all required federal filings.

Wednesday's filing says agents acted improperly during the time they investigated Sittenfeld, but redacts specific allegations. The filling also alleges the federal government isn't turning over key evidence in the case to Sittenfeld's attorneys in a timely manner.

"Information presently available to defense counsel primarily through their own preliminary investigation indicates that agents in this case committed violations of the Attorney General Guidelines on FBI Undercover Operations and Department of Justice 'Ethics Handbook For On and Off-Duty Conduct,' which directly relates to agent credibility and motivations in the operation," the filing reads. "Defense counsel disclosed to the Government some of its initial findings regarding undercover agent misconduct. As a result, the Government requested that that information be under seal and not disclosed in public filings."

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The filing also alleges an FBI informant, Chinedum Ndukwe, appeared with "multiple females who appeared to be under the legal drinking age" when meeting with Sittenfeld and other officials at a 2019 Opening Day party at a "government rented" downtown penthouse where there was alcohol.

The filling claims Sittenfeld mentioned this incident to an undercover FBI agent four months later, who allegedly made a joke about billionaire Jeffery Epstein, who faced charges of sexual improprities with young women.

It's the latest salvo in Sittenfeld's legal battle.

Sittenfeld's attorneys Jan. 13 filed a motion seeking the unsealing of those conversations, which they say federal prosecutors "cherry-picked" quotes from for their indictment.

In an earlier filing Dec. 23, Sittenfeld's attorneys asked a federal judge to dismiss the charges against Sittenfeld. 

Federal authorities responded forcefully to that argument with their own filing Jan. 16.

In that filing, U.S. Attorney David DeVillers argued that Sittenfeld's motions ask the court to "give weight to the defendant's interpretation of select paragraphs in the indictment, while ignoring most others. This is not the law, and this is not an accurate description of the indictment."

Tuesday, Sittenfeld's attorneys filed a separate motion accusing DeVillers of using "clickbait" language to "inflame" public sentiment during his announcement of Sittenfeld's indictment.

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 resigned, 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 Ndukwe, is common to Pastor and Sittenfeld's cases.

DeVillers Tuesday announced he will step down from his U.S. attorney role. He is one of 56 U.S. attorneys appointed by former President Donald Trump whom President Joe Biden's administration has asked to resign.

The next hearing in the case is Feb. 16.

Read the full filing below:

Sittenfeld Court Filing, Feb. 10 2021 by WVXU News on Scribd