CINCINNATI — A Cincinnati attorney who represented Hamilton County for decades on riverfront development matters is the cooperating witness who helped the FBI build a corruption case against Cincinnati Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard, the attorney's law firm confirmed Thursday and nine sources told WCPO Tuesday and Wednesday.
Downtown law firm Frost Brown Todd praised their attorney Tom Gabelman for assisting the FBI's case against Dennard in a statement Thursday. Gabelman had declined to comment when reached by WCPO late Wednesday.
"As legally and ethically required, Frost Brown Todd and Mr. Gabelman immediately reported Council member Dennard's conduct to federal authorities. Mr. Gabelman then worked at the direction of and in coordination with the FBI to assist in the investigation. Frost Brown Todd fully agrees with the Department of Justice’s statement in its February 25, 2020 press release that 'it takes courage for citizens to come forward and assist law enforcement' as Mr. Gabelman did," the firm's statement read.
An FBI affidavit alleged Dennard approached an employee at a Cincinnati law firm who specializes in development negotiations and asked that employee for $10,000 to pay for personal expenses. That employee then worked with the FBI to complete the transactions Dennard requested, leading to her arrest on federal charges of bribery, wire fraud and attempted extortion.
WCPO was told by law enforcement, political and development sources that Gabelman was the person who cooperated with the FBI.
As the I-Team has extensively reported, Gabelman's law firms - including Frost Brown Todd since 2012 and Vorys Sater Seymour and Pease before that - have earned millions of dollars in fees over the years as the county’s lead attorney in negotiating real estate deals for stadiums, parking garages, office and apartment developments at the Banks.
Gabelman was actively involved in negotiating a riverfront land swap that is at the heart of the allegations against Dennard. The land swap involved the relocation of Hilltop Basic Resources from the Cincinnati riverfront as part of a series of deals that would enable a new riverfront music venue. According to the affidavit by FBI Agent Nathan Holbrook, Dennard “agreed to vote for the Hilltop land swap proposal in exchange for $10,000. She further agreed to a payment of $5,000 following a second vote.”
Editor’s note: WCPO does not ordinarily use anonymous sources. However, WCPO staff members use anonymous sources in rare circumstances where such sources are the only way to obtain information vital to the public good. WCPO staff members have vetted these sources and believe the information they provide to be accurate and in good faith.
Read the entire statement from Frost Brown Todd LLC below:
"Frost Brown Todd and one of its members, Tom Gabelman, have represented the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners as Project Counsel in connection with the transformation of Cincinnati's riverfront. In such capacity, Frost Brown Todd and Mr. Gabelman have represented the County Board regarding various matters, including those involving the City of Cincinnati with respect to such riverfront redevelopment matters.
Recent federal court documents allege that Cincinnati City Council member Tamaya Dennard solicited money from an individual identified as 'CHS' in exchange for votes regarding the redevelopment matters. The individual identified in the court documents as CHS is Mr. Gabelman. As legally and ethically required, Frost Brown Todd and Mr. Gabelman immediately reported Council member Dennard's conduct to federal authorities. Mr. Gabelman then worked at the direction of and in coordination with the FBI to assist in the investigation. Frost Brown Todd fully agrees with the Department of Justice’s statement in its February 25, 2020 press release that 'it takes courage for citizens to come forward and assist law enforcement' as Mr. Gabelman did."