Democratic Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was arrested by the FBI on Thursday, on charges that he accepted bribes in exchange for favorable votes on development deals.
Sittenfeld was the presumptive front-runner in next year’s mayoral election, but now he’s the third member of the city’s council this year to be arrested on bribery-related charges. There are only 9 total seats on the council.
Sittenfeld is facing up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud and attempted extortion.
According to prosecutors, Sittenfeld funneled money from developers into a political action committee (PAC) that he secretly controlled. He would then vote in favor of policies or plans that the developers wanted to pass, and vote against those that they wanted to fail.
However, at one point, the FBI caught on to his scheme and sent undercover agents to pose as developers. The FBI agents easily bribed Sittenfeld, giving him checks totaling $40,000 on three different occasions in 2018 and 2019.
Today special agents from #FBI Cincinnati arrested P.G. Sittenfeld, a member of the Cincinnati City Council, on public corruption charges. He is the third member of council arrested and charged this year. https://t.co/B76U9yxGxi pic.twitter.com/Bz3mjc6juX
— FBI Cincinnati (@FBICincinnati) November 19, 2020
The money was said to be in exchange for his support of a plan to develop the former Convention Place Mall into a hotel and office complex with sports betting.
Sittenfeld used the PAC to avoid being accused of directly pocketing the cash, but was very clear that he was promising votes in exchange for the money.
“Don’t let these be my famous last words, but I can always get a vote to my left or a vote to my right,” Sittenfeld said in December 2018, according to the indictment.
U.S. Attorney David DeVillers, who will lead the prosecution team, said, “It’s all part of one scheme. The promises, the accepting of cash, the hiding of where it’s coming from.”
In another conversation quoted in the indictment, Sittenfeld promised, “I can deliver the votes.”
— US Attorney Southern District of Ohio (@SDOHnews) November 19, 2020
Sittenfeld also openly admitted to the agents that his PAC was being used to hide money.
“I do have a PAC that … no one’s like snooping around in who’s giving. Frankly, a lot of people don’t even know I have it,” he told the agents.
The charges come after two other city councilors, Democrat Tamaya Dennard and Republican Jeff Pastor, were hit with similar corruption charges.
This City of Cincinnati has now been brought to its knees. We need drastic reform unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the history of this city. The voters of this city must make serious changes in 2021 and they need to understand how truly broken City Hall has become.
— Alex Triantafilou (@ChairmanAlex) November 19, 2020
U.S. Attorney David DeVillers previously hinted that the investigation is far from over, and other local politicians were being investigated.
DeVillers said last week that the federal investigations have revealed “a culture of corruption.”
“We are concerned about this almost acceptance that this is how it’s done. We’re going to prosecute those cases. Our goal is to make people nervous and stop them from doing this. We have a way to go. We still have some prosecutions to do,” he said.
In 2011, at age 27, Sittenfeld became the youngest person ever elected to Cincinnati City Council. He received the second-most votes of the 23 candidates. He was sworn into office on December 1, 2011.
He was re-elected to the council in 2013 and was the leading vote-getter among the 21 candidates. On March 15, 2016, Sittenfeld lost the Senate Democratic primary election to former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. On July 12, 2020, Sittenfeld announced he is running for Cincinnati mayor, an election that will happen in 2021.
Full press conference below: