On the steps of City Hall on Thursday, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley says it's not hard to argue that there's a "culture of corruption" following the arrest of a third City Council member.
The FBI says Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was arrested at his home after accepting $40,000 in bribes in exchange for favorable votes on development projects. Cranley said there needs to be major reforms following this incident.
"It's hard not to focus on the harms, the real harms that are done by these types of scandals," Cranley said. "The people that are hurt are you, the taxpayer and the citizen."
Cincinnati's Interim City Manager said this incident does not reflect upon city employees. Paula Boggs Muething said as appointed leaders come and go, the employees stay.
"This is a small group of City Council members," Muething said. "It is not the thousands of city employees that pick up the trash, that work in our sewer and water facilities, that patrol the streets, that put out fires."
Sittenfeld is charged with two counts each of honest services wire fraud, bribery and attempted extortion by a government official. He allegedly solicited bribes from a developer and accepted checks from undercover FBI agents from 2018 to 2019. He's pleading not guilty to the charges.
Fellow Council Member Jeff Pastor allegedly took $55,000 in bribes over the course of about a year in exchange for "official action" related to projects in the city. A federal grand jury last week charged him with honest services wire fraud, bribery, attempted extortion by a government official and money laundering.
In February, former Council Member Tamaya Dennard was also arrested and charged with wire fraud, bribery and attempted extortion. Between August and December of 2019, she offered to exchange her votes for money. She plead guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud.
Vice Mayor Responds
Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman says he will be asking the city manager and city solicitor to do a forensic audit of all the votes taken by members of council related to "any and all development" in the city over the past three years.
"I look forward to the outcome of the audit," Smitherman writes in a release. "It will be necessary to communicate those results to the citizens as the first step in restoring their trust and confidence in the workings of the City Council. We will pursue additional steps toward restoring public confidence after the depth of the corruption has been revealed."