CINCINNATI — Former Cincinnati councilmember Tamaya Dennard called her decision to accept bribes in exchange for favorable votes “a terrible mistake” in a letter she wrote to the U.S. District Court filed Thursday.
Dennard pleaded guilty to federal charges of honest services wire fraud in June after resigning from City Council on March 2. In the June plea, she admitted to accepting a total of $15,000 from a person doing business with the city in exchange for her votes.
“Every day I have to look in the mirror, I have to come to terms with how I let all of those people down,” Dennard wrote. “A lot of people have commented about the loss of a great political career. But my career is the least of my thoughts.”
In the letter, Dennard enumerated her lifelong financial struggles, from a childhood in poverty to dropping out of University of Cincinnati to support her mother, to student and housing loan payments piling up after her 2017 election to City Council. These pressures, she wrote, propelled her to ask for the money.
A sentencing memorandum filed by her attorneys called poor financial judgment “the driver of Tamaya’s requests for money,” adding that she “did not set an appropriate budget, manage her finances wisely, or overcome the lasting effects of growing up poor.”
“But the story of a politician looking to turn her seat into a cash cow isn’t mine. It’s not even remotely close,” Dennard wrote. “I was trying to gain stability so that I could focus more on my job. I made a terrible mistake that I will pay for for the rest of my life.
"For the courage, character and promise I’ve always shown, I wouldn’t have risked my reputation, my good name and freedom for $15,000. I asked for an amount that I could pay back without adding more stress to my life. I understand how and why that was wrong. I asked for and accepted something of value that my council seat gave me access to.”
An FBI affidavit alleged Dennard approached an employee at a Cincinnati law firm who specializes in development negotiations and asked that employee for $10,000 to pay for personal expenses. That employee, later confirmed to be attorney Tom Gabelman, then worked with the FBI to complete the transactions Dennard requested, leading to her arrest in February.
She also defended her decision to use more than $4,000 of the money she obtained to book flights and accommodations at a resort in Clearwater, Florida.
“As a kid, we never could afford family vacations," she wrote. "The closest thing we did was to go from our neighborhood of College Hill to the Holiday Inn Holidome in Sharonville for a Saturday and Sunday twice. I know the government will try to make a needed vacation a huge point of contention, but there were points in my time at City Hall where I needed a police detail outside of my home simply because I was Black and outspoken about fairness."
Judge Susan Dlott is set to sentence Dennard on Nov. 24. She 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.
In her sentencing memo, Dennard’s attorneys ask Dlott to consider home incarceration. Dennard said she feels the public humiliation she now experiences is a punishment worse than prison.
“I’m asking for you to see beyond my horrible mistake and know that I’ve lost more than prison will ever take from me,” she wrote. “In a city, where I was born, raised and walked the streets proudly, I’m relieved that wearing a mask hides me from a public who once admired me.”
Read Dennard's full letter in the viewer below: