Updated: 1:58 p.m.
Cincinnati City Council Member and 2021 mayoral candidate P.G. Sittenfeld is saying he's not guilty of federal charges he accepted $40,000 in bribes from developers in exchange for council votes during 2018 and 2019.
"I am innocent. The allegations against me are simply not true," he wrote in a statement posted to Twitter Friday. "The attempt to portray proper assistance to a project bringing jobs and growth to our city that benefits the public is a gross overreach and an injustice."
— P.G. Sittenfeld (@PGSittenfeld) November 20, 2020
Officials said during a news conference Thursday that Sittenfeld solicited bribes from a developer and accepted checks from undercover FBI agents from 2018 to 2019. He reportedly told agents to make donations to a PAC he was secretly controlling, telling them to create and use different LLCs to help hide where the money was coming from.
He allegedly received ten checks — ripping up two of them that didn't properly go along with his scheme — in exchange for "official actions" on City Council.
Sittenfeld is charged with two counts each of honest services wire fraud, bribery and attempted extortion by a government official. He was represented by attorney Diane Menashe in court Thursday afternoon and pleaded not guilty to the charges. Sittenfeld has been released on bond.
He is the third Cincinnati council member to be accused of creating a pay-to-play scheme this year. Just last week, Council Member Jeff Pastor was charged after officials say he took $55,000 in bribes for a similar scheme. Former Council Member Tamaya Dennard was arrested in February and pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud this summer.
Officials said Sittenfeld's case is different from Pastor and Dennard because he didn't directly pocket the bribe money. Instead, he asked that the money be donated to a PAC, which officials declined to name.
Friday afternoon, Sittenfeld's attorney, Charles M. Rittgers, issued a lengthy statement defending his client.
"Public FEC filings show that P.G's leadership PAC timely reported to the FEC all of the required information for each of the $5,000 payments related to the undercover agents," Rittgers wrote. "...P.G. and his PAC followed the law when he received checks to his PAC from the undercover agents over two calendar years. Those donations were open and transparent and reported accurately to the FEC."
He concluded by saying the allegation Sittenfeld accepted $40,000 in bribes "unlawfully tarnishes his reputation by misleading the public about how a lawful leadership PAC operates under the law and how the public record shows he followed the law."
Rittgers said he would hold a news conference Monday.
Sittenfeld launched a mayoral run in July and was considered by many to be the frontrunner in the race.
Additional reporting by Jolene Almendarez and Bill Rinehart.