CINCINNATI — Federal prosecutors intend to call former Cincinnati City Councilman Kevin Flynn to testify against his former colleague, PG Sittenfeld, at his upcoming public corruption trial.
But Sittenfeld’s attorneys are asking U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Cole to ban Flynn’s testimony because, “extrinsic evidence exists that calls into question the credibility and reliability of the testimony of Mr. Flynn.”
The motion to exclude Flynn’s testimony is one of at least 15 legal filings made by attorneys as of late Monday, which is the deadline for pretrial motions ahead of Sittenfeld’s June 21 public corruption trial.
Flynn and Sittenfeld served on City Council together from 2013 to 2017. Flynn, who had a perfect attendance record and was known for promoting government accountability, stepped down from council after his first term, in part for health reasons.Flynn then unsuccessfully ran for a council seat last year.
“The government plans to ask Mr. Flynn to testify to his 'personal knowledge' about how Cincinnati City Council and relevant City departments function and are organized … and the 'general process' around real estate development deals,” according to Sittenfeld’s motion to ban Flynn's testimony.
Flynn will not testify about the Convention Place Mall project at the heart of the case, campaign fundraising activities, or his own interactions with Mr. Sittenfeld, the court filing stated.
Defense attorneys also want to exclude testimony related to the box of cigars and bottle of scotch that undercover FBI agents gave to Sittenfeld after the birth of his son.
Sittenfeld also doesn’t want jurors to hear about the “culture of corruption,” which FBI agents and prosecutors said existed at City Hall, or the arrests of his former colleagues on city council, Tamaya Dennard and Jeff Pastor, on separate public corruption charges, or the pending public corruption case against former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder.
If defense attorneys have their way, jurors also won’t hear about the “Gang of Five” text messaging scandalof 2018 and 2019, which coincides with the time undercover FBI agents were at City Hall.
Sittenfeld was one of five Cincinnati City Council members who admitted to violating Ohio’s Open Meeting Act by conducting public business in private text messages and emails with each other.
The city paid $101,000 to settle a lawsuit against them in the “Gang of Five” text messaging scandal, involving Sittenfeld and then-colleagues Dennard, Greg Landsman, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young
Meanwhile prosecutors have their own list of evidence they want to exclude from trial, including the fact that then U.S. Attorney Ben Glassman and his wife attended a dinner party at Sittenfeld’s house while the government was actively investigating corruption at City Hall.
Sittenfeld also invited the undercover FBI agents to that same dinner party dinner on November 27, 2018, but the agents declined.
Prosecutors also want to exclude comments made by then-U.S. Attorney David DeVillersand FBI Special Agent in Charge Chris Hoffman made at a November 19, 2020 press conference announcing Sittenfeld’s indictment.
Sittenfeld, who has maintained his innocence, was a rising political star and the front-runner to be the next mayor of Cincinnati before FBI agents arrested him for allegedly promising support for development deals in exchange for $40,000 in donations to his political action fund.
FBI agents interviewed developers and donors who frequently did business at City Hall. Prosecutors summarized those interviews for Sittenfeld’s attorneys. Some of those interviews could be admissible at trial as showing prior behavior from Sittenfeld, according to prosecutors’ court filings.
Some accuse Sittenfeld of being heavy-handed and inappropriate in asking for political donationsand using a “subtle message of extortion,’’ according to a government court filing.
Sittenfeld’s attorneys are trying to ban certain testimony about his campaign activity and actions on City Council. They are specifically focused on three individuals who are identified as “J.B.,” “T.G.,” and “C.C.,” according to a defense motion.
But in a court filing on Monday, prosecutors said the testimony from nine witnesses is relevant because it shows Sittenfeld’s prior extortion attempts. The witnesses are not identified by name, only by initial.
The nine incidents that prosecutors want jurors to hear about are:
- [In 2018 and 2019], Sittenfeld’s actions involving D.S. … in which Sittenfeld arranged a meeting and requested D.S. raise contributions for Sittenfeld’s political campaign. D.S. described Sittenfeld’s interactions with D.S. as a subtle message of extortion, and Sittenfeld’s demeanor and statements made D.S. feel that Sittenfeld could hurt D.S. if Sittenfeld became mayor.
- [In 2020], Sittenfeld’s actions involving C.G., … in which Sittenfeld met with C.G. and requested money to support his campaign for mayor in a heavy-handed way, implying that C.G. needed to be on board because Sittenfeld could make it difficult for C.G. to conduct business at city hall.
- [In 2019 and 2020], Sittenfeld’s actions involving R.S., … Sittenfeld arranged a meeting with R.S. while R.S. had business pending before the city. During the meeting, Sittenfeld discussed R.S.’s project before the city, offered to help with the project, explained that he would likely be the next mayor, and requested contributions. After R.S. paid contributions to Sittenfeld, Sittenfeld helped advance the project as requested by R.S.
- [In 2019], Sittenfeld’s actions involving C.C., … in which Sittenfeld arranged a meeting and requested contributions for Sittenfeld’s political campaign. C.C. stated he believed he had to contribute to Sittenfeld because Sittenfeld could make life miserable, and C.C. believed Sittenfeld would be the next mayor.
- [In approximately 2019], Sittenfeld’s actions involving J.B., … in which Sittenfeld stated he would not vote for a zoning change to benefit a project before the city unless a substantial contribution was made to a third party aligned with Sittenfeld.
- [In approximately 2016], Sittenfeld’s actions involving C.C., … Sittenfeld solicited donations from C.C. on multiple occasions, but C.C. did not contribute to Sittenfeld. When C.C. later reached out to Sittenfeld to discuss the purchase of property from the city, Sittenfeld responded with a text message referencing the fact that C.C. had not responded to his prior requests for contributions. C.C. believed that the message was intended to indicate that Sittenfeld would not help C.C. with the purchase of property from the city because C.C. did not contribute to Sittenfeld.
- [In 2018 and 2019], Sittenfeld’s actions involving C.S., … in which Sittenfeld solicited contributions while C.S.’s business was pending before the city by showing political data indicating Sittenfeld was likely to be mayor and by showing contributions from other developers.
- [In 2018 and 2019], Sittenfeld’s actions involving T.G., … in which Sittenfeld indicated he was not going to support T.G.’s development projects because T.G. did not help a third-party entity.
- Sittenfeld’s conduct in intentionally targeting individuals who regularly conducted business with the city or had active business pending before the city for solicitation of contributions, such as Cooperating Witness 1.