CINCINNATI — Suspended Cincinnati City Councilman PG Sittenfeld will face a jury on June 20, 2022, setting up back-to-back public corruption trials that could bring national attention to the Queen City for two months next summer.
U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Cole set Sittenfeld’s trial date during a 10-minute court hearing on Tuesday. Attorneys predict the case could take three to four weeks to present to a jury.
“I’m eager to move forward and I’m very confident that when the full facts come out, I’ll be completely exonerated,” Sittenfeld said, as he entered the courthouse. “We’re going to fight this to the very end.”
Sittenfeld is the third council member the FBI arrested on public corruption charges last year. Former Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard is serving an 18-month prison sentence after she pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud.
Suspended Councilman Jeff Pastor faces a jury on May 2, 2022, with his co-defendant Tyran Marshall, who is accused of funneling bribes to Pastor through an LLC. The FBI arrested Pastor last November on charges that he took $55,000 in bribes from two developers during his first term on council.
In a May interview, Pastor’s attorney, Ben Dusing, blamed the long trial delay on a backlog caused by the COVID-required closures.
But one of Sittenfeld’s attorneys, Charles H. Rittgers, said the nine-month delay may be necessary to allow them to resolve evidenciary disputes with prosecutors and give them time to review documents and interview witnesses.
Sittenfeld and Pastor’s cases will be heard by different judges and different juries. Rittgers did not believe that Sittenfeld’s trial would be impacted by whatever the jury decides weeks ahead in Pastor’s case.
“The facts, as I understand it, as laid out by the prosecution, are totally different from the facts in PG’s case,” Rittgers said. “My understanding is that there was financial gain on behalf of Pastor … PG did not personally gain anything financially.”
Sittenfeld, a Democrat, had been considered the front-runner to win this year’s Cincinnati mayoral race until the FBI arrested him in November. A 20-page indictment charged Sittenfeld with two counts of honest services wire fraud, two counts of bribery and two counts of attempted extortion.
Federal officials alleged that Sittenfeld promised to deliver council votes in 2018 supporting a development deal at the former Convention Place Mall in exchange for four $5,000 contributions to his political action fund. Sittenfeld allegedly accepted four more checks in fall 2019 for a total of $40,000 in bribes.
“This is not a case about personal gain – the government does not allege that money went into Mr. Sittenfeld’s pockets,” Rittgers wrote in a motion to dismiss all charges. “Rather, the indictment alleges nothing more than that Mr. Sittenfeld engaged in the kind of routine conduct of elected officials in cities, counties and states across the nation.”
But prosecutors say what Sittenfeld did is a crime.
“It is not a defense to bribery that the public official would have done the official act anyway, even without payment; and receiving bribe payments through a PAC is no less corrupt,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Singer wrote in a recent court filing. “These actions are not … ‘everyday American democratic activity’—this is bribery.”
What the jury believes about Sittenfeld’s political fund, which is named the Progress and Growth PAC, could determine his fate.