CINCINNATI — Former Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor is looking for a new attorney for his upcoming federal public corruption trial after his attorney of more than a year, Ben Dusing, was temporarily suspended from practicing law.
At a hearing Wednesday, Pastor announced his intention to “find new counsel,” to U.S. District Court Judge Matthew McFarland. Pastor now has 30 days to find a new lawyer before the next phone conference with prosecutors and the judge on May 25.
But finding a new lawyer who specializes in federal public corruption cases may be difficult since so many already have clients who are tied to the City Hall and Ohio Statehouse corruption probes. And Pastor’s new lawyer will likely need at least six months to prepare for trial, given the volumes of evidence and wiretap recordings in his case.
“I'm just happy justice is going through its normal process,” Pastor said as he left the courthouse on Wednesday.
Pastor faces a 10-count indictment accusing him of taking $55,000 in bribes in exchange for votes and influence on development deals.
If a jury convicts Pastor, he likely faces five to six years in prison.
Pastor is one of three council members the FBI arrested in 2020 on charges of public corruption. He took a suspension from council and continued to collect a city paycheck for more than a year until his term ended on Jan. 3.
Pastor and his business partner, Tyran Marshall, are both charged in the public corruption case. Marshall allegedly acted as a middleman in receiving bribes, and Pastor used Marshall’s nonprofit, Ummah Strength, LLC to “sanitize” money, according to the indictment.
The two sat on opposite sides of the courtroom and did not speak before the hearing. Then both moved up to tables in the front of the courtroom to face the judge once the hearing started.
Pastor sat alone at a table and addressed the judge himself, while Marshall sat at a table behind him with his attorney, Clyde Bennett.
Both men were scheduled to face a jury together on May 2, but attorneys agreed to delay it. No new trial date has been set.
Dusing, a former federal prosecutor with a private practice in Northern Kentucky, began working as Pastor's attorney soon after he was indicted in November 2020.
For months there was speculation that the high-profile case would end with a plea deal, but Dusing told reporters in January that Pastor would go to trial to fight the corruption charges.
“The truth is why we’re going to trial,” Dusing told WCPO in January. “There was no corruption, there was no crime. All of this is made up.”
Weeks later, the Kentucky Supreme Court and then the Ohio Supreme Court suspended Dusing’s law license after a former client accused him of “unethical, wrongful and fraudulent behaviors” in a Kenton County lawsuit.
That lawsuit didn’t initially deter Pastor from keeping Dusing on his case.
"I’m sticking with my guy Ben Dusing," Pastor wrote on Facebook after Dusing's Kentucky suspension. "You can save the calls, e-mails and text messages. He’s my guy and he’s been good to me and my family and I’ll never forget that so long as I live."
Dusing, a celebrated white-collar defense attorney with several acquittals in high-profile cases, has posted numerous videos of himself at the Ukrainian border in Poland, where he has spent several weeks as a volunteer with refugees.
Meanwhile, former City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld faces a jury trial in federal court on June 20 in a separate public corruption indictment.
And former Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard is set to be released from prison next week and report to a halfway house. A judge sentenced her to 18 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud in a separate public corruption case.