A federal judge on Tuesday denied City Council member P.G. Sittenfeld’s motion to dismiss the bribery charges that cost him his mayoral ambitions.
Sittenfeld’s attorneys filed a motion on Dec. 23 to dismiss the indictment that accused him of committing honest services wire fraud, bribery and attempted extortion during his interactions with a local developer in 2018 and 2019.
The councilman’s PAC took a total of $40,000 from the developer, former Bengals player Chinedum Ndukwe, after Sittenfeld promised to “deliver the votes” that would green-light one of Ndukwe’s stalled projects. He instructed Ndukwe how to donate the money.
Although Sittenfeld’s attorneys have argued his actions were indicative of a pro-development policy, not public corruption, United States District Judge Douglas Cole wrote Tuesday that Sittenfeld’s conduct raised enough questions for the indictment to be upheld.
"That is not to say that a jury will find a quid pro quo, even if the allegations prove true,” Cole wrote. “But there appear to be sufficient facts, if true, to allow a jury to make such a finding, and in any event the government has asserted that more is forthcoming."
Cole noted that his ruling is not a referendum on Sittenfeld’s innocence but on the legal validity of the indictment, which Sittenfeld’s attorneys had questioned.
“Start with the big picture,” he wrote. “The allegations paint a story of a real-estate development project that was indefinitely stalled in the Cincinnati City Council. Yet, after taking no major action on the project for roughly two years, shortly after the campaign contributions at issue here, the Cincinnati City Council voted to approve the transfer of the project from the City to the Port. In fact, Sittenfeld himself voted in favor of the transfer. What changed? One inference that a person could draw from the allegations in the indictment is that, in exchange for the contributions that he received, Sittenfeld ‘delivered the votes.’”
Sittenfeld was arrested Nov. 19, 2020, and remains suspended from Cincinnati City Council.
As the youngest person ever elected to council and a longtime favorite of local Democrats, Sittenfeld had once been considered a frontrunner to replace Mayor John Cranley in the upcoming mayoral election.
He announced his plans to seek the city's highest office in July 2019, long before many other candidates.
He dropped out of the race Feb. 18, citing the ongoing federal case against him.
On the day he dropped out, Sittenfeld wrote: "I am completely innocent and am working daily to achieve justice and ensure that the facts are known."