CINCINNATI — One week after a jury found former Cincinnati councilman P.G. Sittenfeld guilty of bribery and attempted extortion, undercover recordings played throughout the three-week trial were released.
Jurors watched and listened to hours of recordings that prosecutors said showed Sittenfeld accepting $40,000 in donations to a political action committee in support of official acts to help the development of Convention Place Mall. In the end, the jury determined Sittenfeld was guilty of two charges connected to interactions he had with Cincinnati Bengal turned developer Chinedum Ndukwe.
During a phone call with Ndukwe on Oct. 30, 2018, Sittenfeld says while he likes Ndukwe, he has "obligations to do the things I need to do to be a successful candidate." Prosecutors said the call shows Sittenfeld threatening to withhold support for Ndukwe's project if he doesn't donate.
"If you say, 'Look, I don't want to support you in the name of Chinedum Ndukwe, but some guy I've never met from Columbus is going to use a (couple) ... your network are going to round up a bunch of LLC checks, that's great, I actually don't care," Sittenfeld said. "But I mean the one thing I will say is like ... you don't want me to be like, 'Hey Chin, like love you, but can't,' ... I want people to support me."
That conversation, prosecutors said, was an explicit quid pro quo.
Toward the end of the call, Ndukwe — who was a cooperating witness for the FBI — told Sittenfeld this is why he is a great politician.
"No, I'm not," Sittenfeld said. "I'm not."
About a week later, Sittenfeld goes to lunch with Ndukwe and an undercover agent known as Rob at Nada. As they talk about the Convention Place Mall project and ensuring then-Mayor John Cranley doesn't veto it, Sittenfeld tells the table he has more sway than Cranley.
"I can say I control — not control, that's the wrong word, but like I can move more votes than any single other person, including the mayor," Sittenfeld said. "He had three votes on his budget, I had six."
That same day, at Rob's condo, Sittenfeld is a bit clearer.
"Honestly, I can ... I can sit here and say I can deliver the votes," Sittenfeld tells the undercover agent.
The two then talk about how Rob can donate to Sittenfeld using multiple LLCs.
In September 2019, Sittenfeld talks with Rob and two other undercover agents known as Vinny and Brian at a Columbus hotel. As the group discusses their project, Sittenfeld tells agents they can create a "controlled environment" using the city's zoning code to allow sports betting only at that location.
"We can control things in ways that seem totally unrelated," Sittenfeld said. "I'm confident there's some tool that if really need be within city limits could create a controlled environment."
At the end of the conversation, Vinny hands Sittenfeld two checks donating to his PAC. Vinny says "the other two will be coming."
The jury found Sittenfeld not guilty on one charge of bribery and attempted extortion connected to interactions with Vinny. He was also not found guilty of two counts of honest services wire fraud.
Sittenfeld likely won't face sentencing for months, but could face two to three years in prison.
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