Prosecutors reveal who can testify against PG Sittenfeld
CINCINNATI — Up to seven businessmen and people who had business at City Hall could testify against former Cincinnati City Councilman PG Sittenfeld in his upcoming public corruption trial, accusing him of being brutal and inappropriate in asking for political donations and using a “subtle message of extortion,” according to a government court filing.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, federal prosecutors revealed for the first time the scope of their case against Sittenfeld, who was a rising political star and the frontrunner to be Cincinnati’s next mayor before FBI agents told him. stop in November 2020.
Sittenfeld firmly maintained his innocence. But FBI agents said he promised to vote on the board on the development deals in return for $40,000 in donations to his political action fund.
FBI agents interviewed developers and donors who frequently did business at City Hall. Prosecutors summarized those interviews for Sittenfeld’s attorneys at two meetings last August and September. According to the motion, some of those interviews may be admissible at trial as showing prior conduct by Sittenfeld.
“These individuals told the FBI, in part: the defendant was brutal and inappropriate in his solicitation of contributions; a businessman felt compelled to contribute because the defendant might make life miserable as the next mayor; the accused communicated a subtle message of extortion by soliciting contributions; a businessman did not want to contribute to the defendant but did so because the defendant indicated he was going to be the next mayor,” according to the government court filing.
A businessman was ‘taken by surprise by Sittenfeld’s outspokenness and candor’ during a meeting in which he asked for contributions and Sittenfeld ‘threatened to withhold his vote for a project unless the businessman does not contribute a substantial sum of money to a private third party”. party entity aligned with the defendant,” according to the government court filing.
Prosecutors filed the document in response to a motion by Sittenfeld’s attorney asking U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Cole to force the government to provide more evidence. They specifically want details of FBI interviews with developers and donors who might be sympathetic to their defense.
“We have evidence that a number of these interviews revealed to the FBI that PG was never even close to the corruption line over the years of interacting with him. Yet we have no notes or even mention of these people the FBI interviewed and contacted — let alone exculpatory information,” Sittenfeld’s attorney Charlie Rittgers wrote in a motion for evidence.
Rittgers is also seeking information on the expenses incurred by the agents during their undercover operation at City Hall, “including but not limited to the cost of the penthouse, drinks, dinner, entertainment , trips, including trips to Miami, Florida, with other city council members, tips to waitresses and bartenders,” according to Rittgers’ motion to compel.
But prosecutors say they don’t have to reveal the cost of the investigation because “the costs spent investigating corruption in Ohio are simply not material to guilt or innocence in this case.” “, according to their file.
These are the latest competing and back-and-forth court filings in this high-profile case. Lawyers will likely file more motions in the coming weeks to discuss what evidence jurors are expected to hear at the trial, which is scheduled for June 20 and is expected to last three to four weeks.
Sittenfeld is the third council member the FBI has arrested for public corruption in 2020. Former councilwoman Tamaya Dennard is serving an 18-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to honest services wire fraud. She asked a judge to reduce her sentence so she could get out of jail sooner.
Suspended Councilman Jeff Pastor’s trial had been set for May 2, but has been delayed. The pastor’s attorney, Ben Dusing, is temporarily suspended from practicing law in Kentucky and Ohio. The FBI arrested Pastor last November for taking $55,000 in bribes from two developers during his first term on the board.
A week after Pastor’s arrest in November 2020, FBI agents arrested Sittenfeld in a separate corruption case. A 20-page indictment charged Sittenfeld with two counts of honest services wire fraud, two counts of bribery and two counts of attempted extortion.
“I’m looking forward to moving forward and I’m very confident that when all the facts are out, I’ll be completely exonerated,” Sittenfeld told WCPO in September 2021. “We’re going to fight until the end.”
Rittgers attacked the government’s motives for its Sittenfeld investigation and accused officers of misconduct in repeated court filings. He also asked for the identities of witnesses likely to testify against Sittenfeld, whom prosecutors declined to name.
“The government’s obligation to protect witnesses exists whether the accused is violent or not. In corruption cases in particular, witnesses are often reluctant to speak to officials for fear that cooperation against a current or former public official will ultimately damage their business, reputation, or relationships with other government officials. Typically, potential witnesses tell the government they have relevant information but ask to remain anonymous. The government therefore has an obligation to protect those who have the courage to come forward,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Singer wrote in the court filing.
Prosecutors said they have already delivered lined sheets of text messages between undercover officers and Sittenfeld to defense attorneys and will provide more messages involving undercover officers and other potential witnesses on an ongoing basis. .
Prosecutors will deliver their agent reports on developer and donor interviews to defense attorneys on April 20, or 60 days before trial, according to their court filing.
“Contrary to what the defendant claims, the same rules of criminal discovery apply regardless of the charge – there are no special rules for white-collar defendants. Defendant’s motion should be dismissed,” Singer wrote.