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Wendell Young pleads 'no contest' to charge related to Gang of Five lawsuit

Young was ordered to pay a $100 fine
Wendell Young plea
Posted at 2:18 PM, Dec 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-01 19:40:42-05

CINCINNATI — CORRECTION: This version of the story was updated to reflect the correct charges to which Young pleaded "no contest."

Cincinnati City Council Member Wendell Young was in a Hamilton County courtroom Wednesday morning, accused of violating a judge's order by deleting text messages related to the so-called Gang of Five scandal.

He initially faced a felony charge of tampering with records. However, Special Prosecutor in the case Patrick Hanley agreed to lower the charge to second-degree misdemeanor obstruction of official business.

That charge carries a punishment of up to 90 days in jail and a $750 dollar fine.

Young pleaded no contest to that charge and must pay a $100 fine.

A no contest plea means a defendant allows the court to find them guilty, without actually admitting guilt.

This specific case stemmed from the Gang of Five Lawsuit that surfaced in 2019.

Five city council members admitted to violating Ohio's Open Meetings Act by conducting public business in private texts and e-mails. Those involved included Young, P.G. Sittenfeld, Tamaya Dennard, Greg Landsman and Chris Seelbach.

Judge Ruehlman ordered them not to delete any texts.

However, the prosecuting attorney found that Young did.

"When a public official like Mr. Young uses his personal cell phone to do city business, like the Gang of Five activity, well, those texts on there become the property of Cincinnati," said Hanley.

However, Hanley told WCPO 9News, no one could prove when Young deleted the texts.

"To be completely honest with you, no one could determine or prove they were deleted after Judge Ruehlman entered his order," said Hanley.

So, the plea deal settled it before the case was set to go to trial Dec.6.

"That should speak volumes in the final analysis as to how serious of a matter this really was," said Young's attorney, Scott Croswell III.

Neither City Council nor the Ohio Supreme Court opted to suspend Young from his council seat following his indictment; Young reached his term limit on council and was not able to run for re-election in November.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced in September 2020 that there won't be any further charges in the Gang of Five case. U.S. attorney and special prosecutor Pat Hanley said the tampering with evidence investigation was closed in a letter to Deters and the Cincinnati city solicitor.

Since that scandal, Dennard was arrested by the FBI for corruption charges and sentenced to 18 months in prison following her guilty plea in 2020.

Sittenfeld will face trial in June 2022 after he became the third council member arrested by the FBI on public corruption charges. Jeff Pastor was the second arrested, but he was not involved in the Gang of Five incident.