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2 City Council members testify before grand jury in 'Gang of 5' case

Posted at 4:15 PM, Nov 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-27 19:01:53-05

CINCINNATI -- Two members of the Cincinnati City Council testified before a grand jury Tuesday in the "Gang of Five" text messaging case.

The case involves alleged violations of open meeting laws and possible tampering with evidence.

Wendell Young appeared before the grand jury Tuesday morning, and Greg Landsman was there in the afternoon. There was no word yet on when Tamaya Dennard, Chris Seelbach or P.G. Sittenfeld would have their turn, but deputies said they attempted to serve subpoenas to all five Monday night.

The five are accused of discussing city business via text, such as the employment of former City Manager Harry Black. A lawsuit filed by Mark Miller in April alleged the discussions were illegal secret meetings.

Some of the texts have been released. A judge ordered all the text messages be released, but the council has appealed that ruling. 

Attorney Brian Shrive is representing Miller.

"What we've been told from the City Solicitor's Office last week is, Wendell Young intentionally deleted all or most of his text messages that were responsive to our discovery request and public records request," Shrive said.

Attorney Scott Croswell said Young is cooperating with the investigation and will continue to do so.

"Even if, ultimately, the text messages are retrievable, by making them more difficult to retrieve he's tampered with evidence and that again is a third-degree felony, which is punishable by three years in prison and a $10,000 fine," Shrive said.

Chris Dalton, the director of communications for Sittenfeld, said that Sittenfeld "has preserved all texts and has done what has been asked of him every step of the way, and this includes giving all text messages to the prosecutor's office tomorrow."

Dalton said that Sittenfeld had not yet received a subpoena, "but proactively arranged to provide the text messages to the prosecutor's office."

Landsman said the case is an example of hyper-partisanship from Washington coming to Cincinnati.

"I believe that it's absolutely politically driven," he said. "That doesn't mean that people didn't make mistakes. That doesn't mean that I didn't make a mistake. I said when it happened, it was a mistake."

Landsman downplayed the impact he thinks the investigation will have in the months ahead.

"I'm an optimistic person and my sense is that this, too, shall pass, and that we'll continue to work well together," he said. "I think we have, for the most part, and that's what we were elected to do."

Councilwoman Amy Murray, who is not one of the "Gang of Five," said that's an admirable goal but hard to achieve.

"I think since this new council started, early on there has been a lot of dysfunction," she said. "People have not gotten along, and early on we had meetings and it was obvious that people had been talking and making decisions in a group outside of council."

Councilman Jeff Pastor, also not one of the five, said he's on the fence as to whether the council can come together to get the city's business done.

"The speculation on what is in those texts has already led to ill will," he said. "Some of the rumors that I've heard are troubling and hurtful. However, we have a job as members of City Council to kind of put those things aside."

It's not known if, or when, any indictments will be returned in the case.