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FBI secretly probed corruption in Cincinnati since 2017, three years before Sittenfeld arrest

PG sittenfeld, in a gray suit and blue tie with a messenger bag on his shoulder, enters the Potter Stewart Federal Court Building on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, with a young woman in a printed wrap dress by his side.
Jason Whitman
Former Cincinnati City Council member P.G. Sittenfeld is seen entering the Potter Stewart Federal Court Building as jury selection begins for his trial on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Sittenfeld is accused of illegally trading city council votes for campaign donations.

When FBI case agent Nathan Holbrook transferred from Indianapolis to the Cincinnati field office on January 4, 2018, he picked up several open public corruption cases because of his specialty in overseeing crime that is often difficult to prosecute.

Holbrook looked at files to see who could potentially be flipped to become a cooperating witness; he found Chinedum Ndukwe. The former Cincinnati Bengal turned real estate developer had an open criminal case from 2013 for allegedly using money orders and checks in others’ names to donate to local politicians.

“I determined him to be a source open to recruit,” Holbrook testified on Thursday during the public corruption trial of former Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.

From the witness stand, Holbrook answered some of the biggest questions that have hung over City Hall since three council members were arrested on separate public corruption charges in 2020. How did this case start, and who started it?

By mid-March, Ndukwe had signed a proffer agreement with the FBI, agreeing to work for them to root out potential corruption. The FBI paid him $27,000 in cash throughout 2018 and 2019 for his work on the Sittenfeld case and “multiple other investigations,” Holbrook said.

Holbrook also brought in two FBI undercover agents who had been working in the Cincinnati area since September 2017. He asked them to pose as wealthy investors in development deals “to determine what was going on in the city of Cincinnati.”

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Paula Christian is an investigative reporter at WCPO Channel 9 and has been since 2015. She's also worked at the Cincinnati Business Courier, Tampa Tribune, Winston-Salem Journal, Greensboro News & Record as a staff writer, and numerous other publications throughout Ohio as a freelance journalist. A graduate of Syracuse University in New York, she is most proud of her work that holds government officials accountable, such as watching where taxpayer dollars are spent and bringing the public inside important court proceedings.
WCPO-TV is a news partner of Cincinnati Public Radio.