CINCINNATI — A day after pleading not guilty to federal corruption charges -- the third City Council member to face such charges this year -- P.G. Sittenfeld issued a statement Friday expressing his intent to fight the accusations against him, calling the charges "a gross overreach and an injustice."
"I am innocent. The allegations against me are simply not true," he wrote. "The attempt to portray proper assistance to a project bringing jobs and growth to our city that benefits the public is a gross overreach and an injustice."
Federal agents arrested Sittenfeld, 36, Thursday, Nov. 19, after a grand jury indicted the council member on charges of honest services wire fraud, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and attempted extortion under color of official right. Sittenfeld pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon when he was arraigned in federal court.
Nine days prior to Sittenfeld's arrest, federal agents arrested his colleague on Council, Jeff Pastor, on similar charges. U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said it was not clear if the cases had any direct connection. The two cases do have one thing in common, though: former Cincinnati Bengal and aspiring real estate developer Chinedum Ndukwe served as a confidential witness in both cases.
In February, former City Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard faced similar charges, as well. She pleaded guilty in June and currently awaits sentencing, scheduled for Nov. 24.
DeVillers and Mayor John Cranley both described City Council as fostering a "culture of corruption." In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Cranley said, "It's time to clean house."
Friday afternoon, Sittenfeld's colleague, Chris Seelbach, tweeted his support.
I am standing by my friend.— Chris Seelbach (@ChrisSeelbach) November 20, 2020
I know PG. He is ethical and a good father, husband and friend.
The charges, brought by a Trump appointed US Attorney, are incredibly weak.
I believe in our justice system and strongly believe PG will be exonerated from these charges. https://t.co/JeevRNv7gl
Sittenfeld's attorney, Charles Rittgers, issued this statement Friday afternoon:
Included in the government’s statements yesterday were a number of misleading statements of fact and law. The government falsely claimed that PG’s PAC was secretly controlled by PG and falsely claimed that PG hid the donations he received from the undercover agents, a central component of their wrongful allegations. PG’s PAC was publicly created in 2018 before PG was approached by the agents who claimed to be interested in developing a blighted downtown building which is 435 Elm. The PAC is public. All donations, including the money from the government agents, are reported to the FEC as required by law.
The independent non-profit Center for Responsible Politics explains to the public how Federal law allows an elected official to set up not only his campaign fund to pay for his campaign expenses but also to set up his own leadership PAC. The Mayor of Cincinnati, another Cincinnati Councilmember, and a significant portion of members of Congress have leadership PACs which they control. Federal law authorizes a leadership PAC to receive donations and in turn to make donations to other candidates.
Federal law authorizes the elected official to solicit donations for the leadership PAC, accept donations to the PAC in person, by mail, and electronically, and decide how much and to which candidates the PAC donates. The PAC can accept cash donations up to $100. Individuals and LLC corporations are allowed to donate a maximum of $5,000 per year to a leadership PAC.
The Treasurer of the leadership PAC, not the elected official, is required to file regular reports with the Federal Election Commission. These filings disclose the name and address of every donor and the amount and date of the donation. The Treasurer is required to report to the FEC the name and address of a donor LLC corporation, the date and amount of the donation, and the name of the individual associated with that LLC for purposes of the $5,000 per year limit on individual donations.
Federal law ensures the public has access to the filings from a leadership PAC: the PAC formation documents, the reported information about each donor and donation, the reported information about candidates including the date and amount of any donation the PAC makes, and information about any authorized expense the PAC pays.
Public FEC filings show that PG’s leadership PAC timely reported to the FEC all of the required information for each of the $5,000 payments related to the undercover agents.
Publicly available records of the Secretary of State of Ohio show as active the donor LLCs, their addresses, and the names of the related individuals to whom each $5,000 donation the undercover agents made.
PG and his PAC followed the law when he received checks to his PAC from the undercover agents over two calendar years. Those donations were open and transparent and reported accurately to the FEC.
The government has, contrary to Federal law and publicly available records, falsely said PG’s federally approved leadership PAC was “secretly controlled” by him and that the fund received $40,000 in donations that were “hidden” and unlawfully received “face-to-face.”
It is unjust for the government to use falsehoods to undercut PG’s presumption of innocence. It unlawfully tarnishes his reputation by misleading the public about how a lawful leadership PAC operates under the law and how the public record shows he followed the law regarding his PAC.
A follow-up press advisory for a Monday press conference with Charles M. Rittgers will be sent on Monday morning when an outdoor location is secured.
Hear WCPO I-Team reporter Paula Christian discuss Sittenfeld's arrest on the Hear Cincinnati podcast player above.