The federal trial has begun for a former Cincinnati City Council member who was part of one of Cincinnati’s most troubling civic eras.
P.G. Sittenfeld’s trial launched June 21 with the start of jury selection. In 2020, Sittenfeld was arrested on a six-count indictment related to a scheme that allegedly traded cash for votes relating to the development of the former Convention Place Mall. The charges relate to public corruption.
The trial is being held at Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse downtown and is expected to run for about two weeks. No cameras are allowed in the courtroom.
FBI agents arrested Sittenfeld at his home in November of 2020 on a six-count federal indictment for bribery and extortion. Investigators said Sittenfeld had arranged what amounted to campaign donations, though he circumvented election law by directing those payments to a Political Action Committee which he secretly controlled. Sittenfeld promised favorable development deals as he personally accepted 10 checks, for a total of $40,000, in exchange for votes, investigators said.
Sittenfeld was suspended from Cincinnati City Council in December of that year. To replace him, Hamilton County Probate Judge Ralph “Ted” Winkler appointed Liz Keating, who retained her council seat in November’s election.
Before the indictment, Sittenfeld had been considered a frontrunner in the 2021 Cincinnati mayoral race, which former Hamilton County clerk of courts Aftab Pureval ultimately won. Sittenfeld announced his withdrawal from the race on Feb. 18 of that year, the filing deadline for potential candidates.
“It is with a very heavy heart that, due to the current situation, I’ve made the decision not to run for mayor after all,” Sittenfeld wrote on Facebook. “I am completely innocent and am working daily to achieve justice and ensure that the facts are known – but a mayoral effort right now would distract voters from the important issues confronting our city and create even more stress for my family. I love both our city and my family too much to put you and them through that.”
Sittenfeld continues to maintain his innocence.
The charges against Sittenfeld are part of a larger scandal that enveloped the city in recent years. The carousel of corruption cases began when council member Tamaya Dennard was indicted on federal bribery charges related to her solicitation of $15,000 from a local attorney. Dennard resigned in March 2020, pleaded guilty that June, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Council member Jeff Pastor was charged in November 2020 on 10 federal counts of bribery, extortion, money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. That was the same month that Sittenfeld was arrested.
In 2018, Sittenfeld was part of the “Gang of Five” texting scandal that involved several council members.
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