Politicial Bribes

Third Cincinnati Council Member Arrested for Federal Corruption

CINCINNATI – The frontrunner to be Cincinnati’s next mayor was arrested at his home this week by federal agents for allegedly accepting $ 40,000 in bribes, questioning his once bright political future and further tainting a council municipal beset by accusations of corruption.

Alexander Sittenfeld, known as PG, is charged with two counts each of honest service wire fraud, bribery and attempted extortion, federal prosecutors have said.

He is the third member of the nine-member Cincinnati council to be arrested this year on federal corruption charges.

Prosecutors said Sittenfeld’s arrest was linked to a downtown development project that an undercover agent posing as a real estate investor wanted to start. Sittenfeld faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, prosecutors said.

Before his arrest, Sittenfeld, 36, represented a new generation of promising political leaders, said David Niven, professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati.

“He had a clear path to the mayor’s office. He presented himself as the young, next, newest, best and brightest in politics, ”Niven said. “He proposed what appeared to be a new, cleaner policy, but obviously the allegations are older.”

As part of an alleged ploy to display his influence, Sittenfeld presented voting data to an undercover agent who showed his political popularity, federal prosecutors said.

Every successful developer and business owner in Cincinnati has “already placed their bets with me,” Sittenfeld, who unsuccessfully appeared in the US Senate in 2016, told undercover agents, indictment says . “I can move more votes than any other person.”

Many of his colleagues on the board would not dispute this point, although it may not matter anymore.

“It’s very sad. I’ve known PG and his family for years and couldn’t be more shocked, stunned and disappointed,” said City Councilor David Mann, a Democrat who served twice as mayor.

For his part, Sittenfeld said he was innocent of the charges.

“The allegations against me are just not true,” he tweeted on Friday. “Attempting to present appropriate assistance to a project bringing jobs and growth to our city that benefits the public is flagrant excess and injustice. I hold fast to my record of public service.

He did not return phone calls to seek further comment.

Sittenfeld’s arrest comes after former councilor Tamaya Dennard, 40, a Democrat, pleaded guilty in June to honest service wire fraud.

In 2019, Dennard, a first-term city councilor, allegedly engaged in bribery and extortion attempts and attempts while trying to trade her votes for money, according to federal prosecutors.

She faces up to 20 years in prison and fines and restitution for allegedly asking an individual between $ 10,000 and $ 15,000 to pay for her expenses, NBC 5 reported in Cincinnati.

Months passed and town hall was apparently starting a new chapter when the page turned to Republican Councilor Jeff Pastor, 36. Federal agents indicted him last week with an indictment of 10 counts of corruption, extortion, money laundering and fraud.

Prosecutors say he solicited and received $ 55,000 in bribes from August 2018 to February 2019 in exchange for promised official action related to projects before the council. Pasteur pleaded not guilty.

“The city of Cincinnati is now on its knees. We need drastic reform unlike anything we’ve seen in the history of this city, ”Hamilton County Republican President Alex Triantafilou tweeted. “Voters in this city need to make some serious changes in 2021, and they need to understand just how broken City Hall really has become.”

Sittenfeld was arrested after a federal grand jury indicted him this week in a sealed indictment.

“Three out of nine of us are indicted, it’s crazy. I’m glad the issue is resolved and people are taking an interest in it, ”said Councilor Betsy Sundermann, a Republican. “I think he should resign. We cannot let him come up with legislation and vote on things if he has accepted bribes.

“They (the residents) don’t trust any of us, and I understand why they don’t trust any of us,” she added. “They think the government is dirty. It’s going to take a long time or a lot of rebuilding to try to fix this problem.

Just three days before Sittenfeld’s arrest, Sundermann had announced his intention to change the city charter to allow the dismissal of any council member accused of a crime or displaying unethical behavior.

“Our city charter does not contain any provision for dismissing a board member for unethical behavior,” Sundermann said. “You can be a member of city council and be convicted of murdering 10 people without being kicked out of city council. It’s a big problem.

She said she needed 15,000 signatures to get the proposed November 2021 ballot amendment after officially presenting it to city council members.

Sittenfeld, a Democrat who graduated from Princeton University, was born and raised in Cincinnati. After college, he received a Marshall scholarship for graduate study at the University of Oxford, according to his council member page on the city’s website. He is serving his third term.

After announcing his run for mayor, he was backed by unions and most community leaders and raised $ 700,000 for his campaign, making him the clear favorite in next year’s election.

Federal officials allege Sittenfeld accepted eight checks totaling $ 40,000 from 2018 in exchange for “specific action” in his role as city official. He solicited and received the money through a federally regulated political action committee that he organized and monitored as part of the supposed development, federal officials said.

The payments, which he repeatedly requested, were for a downtown property owned by the City of Cincinnati, which was then transferred to the Cincinnati Port Authority, prosecutors said.

An undercover agent acting as a real estate investor had wanted to develop the property for years, but could not move forward without board approval, according to the indictment.

In November and December 2018, Sittenfeld promised he could “deliver the votes” to city council to support a development project in return for four $ 5,000 contributions to his PAC, prosecutors said. He accepted the checks in September and October 2019, they said.

Over the next few months, Sittenfeld reportedly told investors he would put additional pressure on public officials over the development project.

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City Councilor Mann, 81, said the city prides itself on good government and was one of the first in the country to adopt a city manager form of government. Even the son of an American president once served as mayor, Charles Taft, whose father was former President William Taft, he said.

Mann, the mayor of Cincinnati in 1981 and 1991, is running against Sittenfeld in next year’s mayoral race.

“We all have to remember what it is about is serving the public and the greater good, and how we went down that road, I don’t know,” Mann said. “It is incompatible with the history of this community in my experience.”

Niven, the political science professor, said the multitude of accusations against council members may have caused residents to lose faith in those they once supported.

“There is tremendous pressure on the remaining board members,” Niven said. “The lesson the community would rightly learn is cynical. No matter who you vote for, their service to you may not be fair. And that’s a sad conclusion.

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