CINCINNATI — Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters says his office will file paperwork to initiate suspension proceedings for Cincinnati City Council member Tamaya Dennard if she does not resign by Tuesday.
"I don't care how she goes, she needs to be gone now," Deters told WCPO 9 News on Sunday.
Deters turned up the heat by threatening to indict Dennard for bribery if she doesn't resign following her arrest last week on federal corruption charges. Upon an indictment, the charges would be sent to the Ohio Supreme Court, and the process to suspend Dennard from her council seat would begin.
Deters told WCPO 9 he decided to take matters into his own hands after he spoke to the Ohio Attorney General's office and the U.S. Attorney's office this weekend. A federal trial could take months or years, and Deters said it was unclear how long it would take to remove Dennard from office through a citizens suit filed in Probate Court last week. The city solicitor could choose to not prosecute the case at all.
In a new development Monday, Councilmember Greg Landsman joined colleague David Mann and Mayor john Cranley in calling for Dennard to give up her council seat. Landsman told WCPO 9 last week that he gave Dennard $1,000 after she asked him for money to cover some personal hardships.
Landsman said Monday that Dennard's legal issues prevent her from effectively serving the city.
“What matters most for the City and those we serve, is for us to be totally focused on the job we were elected to do," he wrote in a statement. "Tamaya needs to be focused on her legal issues. She should step down, for the City’s sake and for hers.”
Dennard's attorney's said last week she would notify the city of her decision by the end of this week.
Dennard is facing federal charges of wire fraud, bribery and attempted extortion after the U.S. Attorney accused her last week of soliciting more than $16,000 from an attorney representing the county in exchange for her votes. The FBI said it has recordings of Dennard's conversations as well as text messages and email as evidence.
When asked about due process in the case, Deters told WCPO 9 it "doesn't matter" that Dennard hasn't been convicted of a crime. "She would be suspended with pay," Deters said. "If she’s convicted, she has to pay it back."
Deters said his office is talking to Dennard's attorneys and giving her the option to resign by his 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline. If Dennard does not resign, Deters said he would ask the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, Maureen O'Connor, to suspend her. The chief justice would then appoint three retired judges to examine the case for probable cause, Deters said. If they found probable cause, the chief justice could suspend Dennard.
SEE the timeline in the Dennard case:
The whole process, which was used to remove Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader from office last year, could take less than 30 days.
Deters followed those comments Monday by saying "it's a total embarrassment to the city" for Dennard to remain in office and suggested she would be doing herself a favor to step down.
"She messed up. She needs to take responsibility for it and get on with her life," Deters said on Bill Cunningham's radio show on WLW.
"It would be very smart of her to at least show some remorse and get out of office. The U.S. Attorney has a strong case against her," Deters said.
On Thursday of last week, just two days after Dennard was arrested on federal corruption charges, a local government watchdog filed court papers Thursday seeking to remove her from office.
“The ultimatum issued by Joe Deters clearly vindicates the complaint we filed last week to start the citizen-initiated process for the removal of Tamaya Dennard," said Curt Hartman, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Mark Miller, "We are pleased to see Joe Deters and David Yost now engaging in the process to help clean up Cincinnati City Hall."
Last week, Cranley said Dennard should resign immediately if she can't refute the federal charges. And Mann, who has spent 24 years on City Council, told Paula Christian of WCPO 9 News that he has never seen a council member face charges as serious as Dennard's.
"We've never had this kind of conduct by a public official," said Mann. "In my experience City Hall is an ethical place."
Dennard was arrested on Feb. 25 in the Downtown Starbucks and released on her own recognizance.
Dan Monk of WCPO 9 was first to identify prominent attorney Tom Gabelman of Downtown development firm Frost Brown Todd as the person Dennard approached for money. Gabelman's firm later confirmed Monk's report.
Gabelman, who worked for a stakeholder in projects at The Bank, took the information to the FBI instead.
According to the FBI complaint that didn't identify Gabelman, Dennard asked for money to pay her rent, place a down payment on a car and pay for attorneys fees.
Gabelman then worked with the FBI to complete the transactions Dennard requested, exchanging a total of $15,000 in increments of $10,000 and $5,000 for upcoming votes "on a matter scheduled to be heard by Council."