Former Cincinnati City Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard pleads guilty to honest services wire fraud

Faces up to 20 years in prison
Posted at 12:59 PM, Jun 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-22 15:17:18-04

CINCINNATI — Former Cincinnati City Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud, according to a plea agreement filed Monday with the U.S. District Court.

A judge could sentence Dennard to up to 20 years in prison with up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. Prosecutors accuse Dennard, who had been council president pro tem, of trading council votes on development deals for $15,000 in 2019.

Dennard resigned on March 2. A grand jury indicted her on March 11 with three counts of honest services wire fraud, two counts of bribery and two counts of attempted extortion. All of the charges carry a sentence of up to 50 years in prison.

Prosecutors will drop the bribery and attempted extortion charges, according to the plea agreement. The plea agreement, which Dennard signed on Friday, also requires she repay the $15,000. The agreement does not preclude state or local officials from filing separate charges.

WCPO was the first to report last week that Dennard was in plea negotiations with federal prosecutors.

FBI agents arrested Dennard at a Downtown Starbucks on Feb. 25 before a Cincinnati City Council committee meeting. Her arrest shocked City Hall and soon local leaders were calling for her resignation.

Former federal prosecutor Ben Dusing believes the federal investigation is larger than Dennard because the low dollar amount of the alleged corruption would not justify a four-month FBI investigation and the immense federal resources spent.

"In my experience it would be very unusual for the government to dedicate so much time and effort and taxpayer dollars to a $15,000 municipal public corruption case,” Dusing said.

Dennard had never run for office before winning a city council seat in 2017. She started in politics as a volunteer for fellow Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld's 2011 city council campaign, then worked for him as an aide at City Hall.

Dusing said prosecutors will likely ask Dennard to testify in court against someone else, in exchange for recommending a lighter sentence to the judge.

"It's a virtual certainty in my humble opinion, that this is just the beginning,” Dusing said.

Prosecutors and Dennard’s attorneys did not immediately return requests for comment.

A judge has to sign off on the plea deal and assign a sentence before it is official. A plea hearing has not been scheduled yet.