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Here's how Sittenfeld's sentence was decided

Former Cincinnati City Council member P.G. Sittenfeld and his wife Sarah leaving his sentencing hearing Oct. 10 at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse in Cincinnati.
Nick Swartsell
Former Cincinnati City Council member P.G. Sittenfeld leaving his sentencing hearing Oct. 10 at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse in Cincinnati.

Former Cincinnati City Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld will spend 16 months in prison, one year on probation, and receive a $40,000 fine for accepting $20,000 in bribes, U.S. District Court Judge Douglass Cole ruled Tuesday.

He'll report to the minimum-security prison — his attorneys requested FCI Ashland in Eastern Kentucky — on Dec. 1 at the earliest. But he'll remain free as he awaits a ruling from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether he can stay out of prison during an appeal of his conviction. Cole ruled Sittenfeld must report to prison during his appeal process, but could be overruled by the higher court.

The sentencing hearing at times rehashed Sittenfeld's trial, with attorneys continuing to argue that the former council member never intended to accept bribes.

Cole weighed a number of factors as he considered Sittenfeld's sentence: federal sentencing guidelines based on the severity of Sittenfeld's conduct; his status as not just a public official but an elected public official; his lack of past criminal history; and other factors suggested a sentence of 33 to 41 months. Federal prosecutors advocated that sentence as well.

But Cole weighed mitigating factors, including testimonials to Sittenfeld's character and the sentences of two of Sittenfeld's fellow council members and former Toledo City Council members convicted of bribery.

Cole lingered especially on two cases. One was the conviction of former Cincinnati City Council member Tamaya Dennard. Dennard received 18 months for a bribery conviction and is now out of prison. Cole also considered a likely sentence for former Cincinnati City Council member Jeff Pastor, who has taken a deal that will cap his sentence at 24 months.

Cole said that Dennard and Pastor both admitted responsibility for their offenses, while Sittenfeld had not. But he also weighed the fact that both took cash payments — in Pastor's case, for significantly more than Sittenfeld took — instead of campaign contributions to a political action committee.

Sittenfeld and his attorneys Charlie Rittgers and Justin Herdman stressed that last point, claiming the money wasn't for personal gain.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Singer pushed back. It doesn't matter whether the money went into a PAC or Sittenfeld's pockets, Singer argued. Public trust was betrayed either way.

"Sentencing courts time and again have reflected on the impact bribery cases have," he said. "It must be clear to the public at large that behavior like the defendant's is unacceptable."

Sittenfeld and his attorneys wanted Cole to sentence him to probation and community service. They cited Sittenfeld's status as a father to two young children, his history of community service, and 334 pages of letters from community members attesting to Sittenfeld's character and history of community service.

They also said Sittenfeld is of no further danger to the community.

"His career as an elected official is over," Herdman said. "It just isn't necessary to impose a sentence of imprisonment to protect the public from him."

Sittenfeld himself wrote a letter to Cole saying the case had changed him as a person.

While he did not admit to breaking the law, he did make an emotional statement in court admitting to "moving too fast" during his council tenure and mayoral ambitions.

"The person I was when this case began is not the person I am today," he said. "I've grown. I've changed a lot, most of all as a husband and a father."

Cole said he had sympathy for Sittenfeld's family and believed he might have been well-intentioned. But he also said prison was a necessary sentence in this case to send a message to other elected officials and the public. Actions like Sittenfeld's, he said, are corrosive to democracy.

"I believe it is important for the public and public officials to see that we will not tolerate corruption," Cole said in handing down the sentence.

After a lengthy two-year FBI investigation, 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 in 2020. Federal agents arrested him at his home Nov. 19, 2020.

A jury found Sittenfeld guilty on one charge of bribery and one charge of extortion in 2022. He was found not guilty of both counts of honest services wire fraud and one count each of bribery and extortion.

RELATED: Sittenfeld ordered to pay back money received from undercover FBI agents

At the center of Sittenfeld's conviction: allegations he received $20,000 from undercover FBI agents.

Federal prosecutors alleged Sittenfeld took the bribes in 2018 in the form of four checks from LLCs to his political action committee. Those contributions came with an understanding, prosecutors alleged, that Sittenfeld would deliver a veto-proof majority on approvals for a development project at 435 Elm Street Downtown.

The FBI enlisted developer Chinedum Ndukwe to act as an informant in that case. Ndukwe had been under FBI investigation for allegations including money laundering prior to aiding the federal investigation into Sittenfeld.

The prosecution used taped conversations between the agents and Sittenfeld, including one in which he stated, "I can deliver the votes," to convince the jury.

In sentencing, Cole referenced that particular recording, saying it showed Sittenfeld's intent.

The arrest and subsequent conviction sent shockwaves through City Hall. Sittenfeld was at the time the frontrunner in the city's mayoral race. He dropped out of that race and left City Council.

Sittenfeld was the third Cincinnati council member to be arrested on corruption charges over the span of a year.

Federal agents arrested Councilmember Jeff Pastor just nine days prior to Sittenfeld. Pastor allegedly solicited $55,000 from Ndukwe, the same developer involved in Sittenfeld's case.

ANALYSIS: How P.G. Sittenfeld's political ambitions led him to a criminal trial on bribery charges

Authorities arrested former Councilmember Tamaya Dennard in February that year on unrelated corruption charges. She resigned from council the following month and pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud June 29 in connection to money she solicited from a whistleblower working with the FBI in exchange for favorable votes on riverfront development at The Banks. A federal judge sentenced Dennard to 18 months in federal prison.

Sittenfeld has denied he accepted the money in exchange for favorable votes on any development deal. His attorneys have indicated they are appealing his conviction.

There are still loose ends in the case. The court has ordered Sittenfeld to pay back the $20,000 that went into his PAC account. But the judgment is against Sittenfeld personally, not against the PAC, and campaign finance rules prohibit the payout from the PAC. Cole said future hearings should iron out that issue.

Updated: October 10, 2023 at 4:27 PM EDT
Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.