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City will ask former Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld to repay at least $71k after bribery conviction

Sittenfeld collected full salary while suspended, now city wants it back
P.G. Sittenfeld Tuesday July 5 trial
Posted at 4:55 PM, Jul 12, 2022

CINCINNATI — City officials will ask former Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld to repay his salary and benefits from 2020 and 2021, valued at roughly $71,500, after a jury found him guilty of bribery and attempted extortion last week.

State law allowed Sittenfeld, whom the FBI arrested in November 2020 on six charges of public corruption, to collect his full salary and benefits for more than a year until his council term expired on Jan. 4, 2022.

Now that he has been convicted, the city will be moving to recoup that compensation. Solicitor Andrew Garth said city officials will send a letter to Sittenfeld within a few weeks asking for reimbursement once they calculate the exact amount he owes.

“Appropriate city officials will notify Mr. Sittenfeld of the statutory repayment requirement as they would for any other debt owed to the city. The city solicitor would only file a civil action if a court’s involvement were to become necessary to recover the amount owed,” according to a city spokesman.

The city paid council members $5,054 per month and contributed an additional $483 per month to those who had a family health insurance plan during that time. That amounts to $5,537 per month, or $66,444 per year.

Taxpayers also paid Sittenfeld’s salary for several weeks while he was under suspension in 2020. He agreed to take a voluntary suspension from council on Dec. 7, 2020, after Attorney General Dave Yost initiated the suspension process.

“If the public official subsequently pleads guilty to or is found guilty of any felony with which the public official was charged, the public official is liable for any amount of compensation paid to the official during the suspension,” according to Ohio law.

Once a rising star in Cincinnati's political scene, Sittenfeld was the youngest council member in city history when voters elected him at age 27 in 2011. He won re-election twice as the top vote-getter and in July 2020 announced his campaign for mayor.

Then, on Nov. 19, 2020, FBI agents arrested Sittenfeld at his East Walnut Hills home and charged him with six public corruption charges. Prosecutors accused Sittenfeld of accepting $40,000 in donations to a political action committee (PAC) from undercover FBI agents posing as developers in exchange for his support and official acts to help the development of Convention Place Mall.

The jury determined that Sittenfeld was guilty of attempted extortion and bribery chargesconnected to interactions he had with former Cincinnati Bengal turned real estate developer Chinedum Ndukwe.

Sittenfeld was found not guilty of two counts of honest services wire fraud and one count each of attempted bribery and extortion.

He likely won't face sentencing for months but could face two to three years in prison. U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Cole may also require Sittenfeld to repay the $40,000 in bribes the FBI says he accepted.

Breaking down the P.G. Sittenfeld verdict

The city also paid salary and benefits to former Councilman Jeff Pastor, who the FBI arrested on a separate public corruption indictment on Nov. 10, 2020. The city could recoup that money if Pastor pleaded guilty or was convicted by a jury.

Pastor is awaiting trial on charges he took $55,000 in bribes in exchange for votes related to development projects.

At the time of their arrests, several council members and then-Mayor John Cranley called on Pastor and Sittenfeld to resign. Instead, both voluntarily agreed to be suspended, which meant they kept receiving paychecks.

That forced taxpayers to pay double for two council seats for more than a year. The city paid for the salaries and health benefits of the two interim council members who temporarily replaced Pastor and Sittenfeld — Steve Goodin and Liz Keating — through the beginning of 2022.

Voters elected Keating to keep her seat on council. Voters did not elect Goodin last November.

The corruption scandal at City Hall began in February 2020, when the FBI arrested former Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard.

A week after her arrest,Dennard resigned, so her city paychecks stopped.

She was recently released from prison after serving more than a year behind bars. She pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud, admitting that she took $15,000 for her vote on a development deal at The Banks.

A judge ordered Dennard to repay the $15,000 she accepted in bribes.

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