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Young pleads not guilty to tampering with evidence, waives first court appearance

Was special council meeting a waste of time?
Posted at 8:26 AM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-30 08:36:09-04

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati City Council member Wendell Young pleaded not guilty Thursday to a tampering with evidence charge connected to the "Gang of Five" scandal.

On April 15, a grand jury indicted Young on the felony charge connected to the “Gang of Five” — a group of council members who broke the law by conducting public business in private messages during 2018. The group consisted of Young and fellow Democrats P.G. Sittenfeld, Greg Landsman, Tamaya Dennard and Chris Seelbach. All admitted they had texted and emailed each other about city business, but Ohio’s Open Meetings Act requires meetings of public bodies to be accessible to the public.

Special prosecutor Patrick Hanley alleged Young destroyed some of that private correspondence despite knowing the group was under investigation.

On Thursday, Young entered a written plea of not guilty and was released on his own recognizance, court records show. He also waived his right to appear at his Friday morning arraignment. A scheduling conference is set for May 12 before Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman.

Young, 75, could face three years in prison if convicted.

Young's indictment drew some calls for his resignation from members of council, while others said they would wait for more information before supporting his ouster.

Young is the fourth council member to be indicted on criminal charges since February 2020, but his colleagues' charges were not related to the "Gang of Five."

Sittenfeld, Dennard and Republican Jeff Pastor were all arrested by FBI agents in 2020, accused of soliciting bribes from local developers in exchange for votes on upcoming projects. Dennard resigned shortly after her arrest and later pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Sittenfeld and Pastor have both been suspended from council.