CINCINNATI — Some prominent Cincinnati figures were among the 160 people throwing support behind City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, now facing a federal bribery case, in an open letter published online this week.
The letter from "Friends of PG," titled "Prosecutors’ Unjust Treatment Of PG Sittenfeld: And Why We Shouldn’t Let It Happen," states that "the unjust, unfair prosecution" of Sittenfeld "is just plain wrong."
A federal grand jury indicted the councilman on charges of honest services wire fraud, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and attempted extortion under color of official right. He is accused of promising to deliver council votes in 2018 supporting a development deal at the former Convention Place Mall in exchange for a total of $40,000 in contributions to his political action fund.
"The case brought against PG — who has received more votes at the ballot box than any city leader in nearly a decade — fails as a matter of law," the letter read. "As others have noted, if his behavior is in any way criminal, then every current Mayor, Governor, and member of Congress and every person who has ever run for political office is similarly guilty."
Citing examples from the November indictment and echoing an earlier motion from his attorneys, the letter claims prosecutors "willfully cherry-picked and manipulated PG’s words to make comments that show PG’s true intentions instead seem sinister," including cutting off Sittenfeld's quotes mid-sentence.
"We’ve also followed the allegations brought against him as well as the facts brought to light in this case. Put simply, they do not add up," the letter read.
Sittenfeld's attorneys filed a motion to drop the charges on Dec. 23, claiming his actions were not criminal, but a reflection of his pro-development positions as a city council member. Prosecutors responded late last month that it should be up to a jury to determine Sittenfeld's intent, and that receiving bribes through a PAC "is no less corrupt."
Sittenfeld has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has maintained his innocence via social media videos. He also agreed to temporarily step down from council in early December.
WDBZ radio host Lincoln Ware told WCPO that signing the letter "was an easy decision to make," adding that he believes federal prosecutors "are going to have a hard time" proving their case.
"I've known P.G. for a number of years, and he is a straight-up guy," Ware said Tuesday.
Tim Burke, former head of the Hamilton County Democratic Party and one of the 160 signees, told WCPO he believes allegations about Sittenfeld's "secret" PAC are "totally misleading."
“When they tried to paint this PAC, that P.G. and lots of other politicians have, as being some kind of secret PAC -- it’s not. It’s a public PAC, and all of the donations to it -- including the money that the feds gave him posing to be developers -- was publicly reported," Burke said.
Unlike another high-profile federal bribery case against former Cincinnati City Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard, Burke said Sittenfeld did not seek out money for personal gain.
“This is not a situation where P.G. is even alleged to have put any of this money to personal use,” he said.
Burke, who has known Sittenfeld since the councilman started in local politics, said he believes in his integrity, like many other Cincinnatians who signed the letter.
“I think a lot of people who signed on this letter are probably people who have supported PG in the past ... because they like his stance on a wide variety of issues, including when it comes to developing the city of Cincinnati," he said.
U.S. District Judge Douglas Cole will rule on the motion to dismiss Sittenfeld's charges after a Feb. 16 hearing.