CINCINNATI — Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld filed a motion on Wednesday requesting the federal bribery charges against him be dropped, claiming his actions were not criminal but a reflection of his pro-development positions as a council member in Cincinnati.
Sittenfeld agreed to temporarily step down from his position in early December but has maintained his innocence through several video posts on social media.
A federal grand jury indicted Sittenfeld, 36, last month 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 when he was arraigned in federal court.
Wednesday's 20-page filing argues that the government has failed to charge a genuine crime in his case and that he did not promise to exchange any official actions for campaign contributions.
The motion states Sittenfeld rejected requests to accept campaign contributions but simply pointed to his pro-development position for development deals in the city.
Sittenfeld's indictment, the motion to dismiss states, "fails as a matter of law" because Sittenfeld was simply discussing politics and his own policies, which aligned with the FBI's informant, identified as former Cincinnati Bengals player and developer Chinedum Ndukwe.
"In our American democracy, elected public officials have always sought 'support on the basis of their views and what they intend to do or have done' and have solicited money based on those views and promises," the motion states.
Federal officials said in November that Sittenfeld promised to deliver votes in Cincinnati City Council in November and December 2018 in support of a development deal in exchange for four $5,000 contributions to his PAC. Sittenfeld allegedly accepted four more checks in September and October 2019.
According to the indictment, when asked how he wanted to receive the money, Sittenfeld said, “I do have a PAC that one, no one’s like snooping around in who’s giving that there, I mean I think frankly a lot of people don’t even know I have it. Any LLC or individual can give up to $5,000 to that.”
Sittenfeld solicited money in exchange for favorable votes on a project Ndukwe hoped to develop, a building formerly known as Convention Place Mall at 435 Elm St., the indictment said. Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor is also accused of accepting bribe money from Ndukwe for votes on the same project.
Sittenfeld said he could use zoning codes in Cincinnati to create a controlled environment so the project could have sports gambling, U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said in November.
"This is not a case about personal gain -- the government does not allege that money went into Mr. Sittenfeld's pockets," the motion to dismiss argues. "Nor does the government allege that his PAC received contributions that exceeded the federal limits, that he spent the contributions unlawfully, or that he failed to disclose the contributions publicly as required by law. Rather, the indictment alleges nothing more than that Mr. Sittenfeld engaged in the kind of routine conduct of elected officials in cities, counties and states across the nation."