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Former Councilman Jeff Pastor will fight public corruption charges at jury trial in May

Juries to decide two corruption trials in 2022
Attorney Ben Dusing and former Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor in a Jan. 12, 2022 interview.
Posted at 6:00 AM, Jan 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-24 15:31:44-05

CINCINNATI — Former Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor will go to trial to fight public corruption charges, ending months of speculation that his high-profile case would end with a plea deal.

“The truth is why we’re going to trial,” said Pastor’s attorney, Ben Dusing. “There was no corruption, there was no crime. All of this is made up.”

Pastor’s trial is set for May 2 before U.S. District Court Judge Matthew McFarland. He 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.

Dusing declined to say whether Pastor turned down a government plea deal.

But Dusing, who is a former federal prosecutor, admitted that “it’s customary” for the government to offer plea deals to defendants in these types of cases.

Former Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor
Former Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor

“This is not a man who is going to cop to something he didn’t do to take the easy way out,” Dusing said. “It’s not who he is.”

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 has kept a low profile and not spoken publicly about his case. He sat quietly next to Dusing and did not speak during the past two interviews with WCPO.

Dusing continues to raise serious questions about the FBI’s investigation and suggests that Pastor was set up by agents who were posing as investors in development deals.

“The government created the circumstances, they created the 'crime' if you will,” Dusing said. “It’s all made up. Nothing happened.”

But that’s not how prosecutors described their corruption probe.

Cincinnati city council

This indictment is indicative of a culture of corruption, a culture of extortion, a culture of pay-to-play,” then-U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said at a press conference in November 2020.

Prosecutors have denied in court documents that their investigation was improperly motivated.

The case will boil down to what a jury believes about Pastor’s intent.

“If Mr. Pastor took money from someone and it was for a purpose other than his vote or his influence, then he’s not guilty under the law,” Dusing said. “If he took it for those reasons, then he is. So, it all turns on that issue.”

For example, he said, Pastor never cast a vote in favor of either of the two development deals at the heart of the case – Convention Place Mall in Downtown and the Kennedy Connector project in Oakley – despite allegedly accepting bribes to advance them.

“If somebody paid Mr. Pastor for his vote, they made a very bad deal. And that makes very little sense,” Dusing said.

Pastor, 38, and his business partner, Tyran Marshall, 37, 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.

Marshall flew to Miami in September 2018 on a private plane to meet with investors regarding a real estate development project. Pastor never paid for or disclosed the trip, according to the indictment.

But Pastor had no idea about the circumstances of this trip, Dusing said.

“If you are told that or invited to give a presentation on minority investment in the city … and then you find out on your way that the presentation is on a yacht,” Dusing said last September, “it does logically lead to some questions about the nature of the undercover operation.”

Dusing isn’t the only one who has raised questions about the FBI’s conduct in the City Hall corruption probe.

PG Sittenfeld outside federal courthouse Sept. 7, 2021.png
PG Sittenfeld walks to U.S. District Court with attorneys Charles H. Rittgers and Charlie M. Rittgers

Attorneys for City Councilman PG Sittenfeld, who is also awaiting trial in a separate public corruption indictment, accused FBI agents of misconduct.

In court filings last February, Sittenfeld’s attorneys wrote that undercover agents held an Opening Day party at a government-rented penthouse in which young women who appeared to be underage were drinking with a developer who was working with the FBI as an informant.

A judge set a June trial date for Sittenfeld, who told WCPO that he intends to fight the charges until the very end.

The third council member arrested on corruption charges, Tamaya Dennard, is serving an 18-month prison term after she pleaded guilty.

Tamaya Dennard fed court.jpeg
Former Cincinnati City Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard stands outside Downtown's federal courthouse, summer 2020.

“At the end of the day Mr. Pastor stands on principle. And that’s who he is,” Dusing said. “I would like to think that it is justice for all. But I guess we will see.”