Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld Releases Statement After Arrest, Federal Bribery Charges

"I intend to keep fighting — fighting these false allegations, fighting as your elected Council Member, and fighting for our city and its future."

Nov 20, 2020 at 1:36 pm
click to enlarge P.G. Sittenfeld - Photo: Provided/CityBeat Archive
Photo: Provided/CityBeat Archive
P.G. Sittenfeld

On Thursday morning (Nov. 19), FBI agents arrested council member P.G. Sittenfeld at his home. Now the presumptive front-runner for Cincinnati’s upcoming mayoral race is featured in a six-count federal indictment for bribery and extortion.

Investigators say Sittenfeld arranged what amounted to campaign donations — though he circumvented election law by directing those payments to a Political Action Committee which he secretly controlled. 

Today, Sittenfeld posted a statement on Twitter proclaiming his innocence and thanking people for their support:

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your incredible outpouring of love and support. It has lifted and comforted our family enormously.

I am innocent. The allegations against me are simply not true.

The attempt to portray proper assistance to a project bringing job and growth to our city that benefits the public is a gross overreach and injustice.

I stand strongly on my record of public service, including providing help that's in the public interest to anyone, whether they have ever made a political contribution to me or not.

My public service has always been guided by doing what's best for Cincinnati.

Please know this: I do not give up and will not give up.

I intend to keep fighting — fighting these false allegations, fighting as your elected Council Member, and fighting for our city and its future.

The statement appears to indicate Sittenfeld does not intend to resign from city council.

But during a press briefing in front of City Hall on Thursday, Mayor John Cranley said Sittenfeld needs to do just that and focus on his "due process."

Cranley said Sittenfeld's alleged actions seemed to be taken to "accumulate power for power's sake," instead of greed, which he deemed a worse trespass.

That is the second time in two weeks a Cincinnati City Council member has been arrested on charges of corruption related to a scheme that allegedly traded cash for votes relating to the development of the former Convention Place Mall. Sittenfeld's indictment follows last week’s arrest of council member Jeff Pastor, who was federally charged on Nov. 10 for an assortment of similar charges relating to the same development project. 

Ultimately, Sittenfeld is accused of personally accepting 10 checks, for a total of $40,000, in exchange for votes. In another instance, U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said Sittenfeld had vowed to use the city’s zoning laws to make sure the project would be the only one in the area with sports gambling. 

In an exchange included in the indictment, Sittenfeld told an undercover source posing as a developer, “I can move more votes than any single person” on the council. In another instance, Sittenfeld is alleged to have met two people he thought were developers in December 2018. The “developers” gave the politician four $5,000 checks, which he placed in his jacket pocket. 

Sittenfeld's attorney, Charles M. Rittgers, released a statement Friday as well, saying, in part:

Included in the government’s statements yesterday were a number of misleading statements of fact and law.  The government falsely claimed that PG’s PAC was secretly controlled by PG and falsely claimed that PG hid the donations he received from the undercover agents, a central component of their wrongful allegations.  PG’s PAC was publicly created in 2018 before PG was approached by the agents who claimed to be interested in developing a blighted downtown building which is 435 Elm. The PAC is public. All donations, including the money from the government agents, are reported to the FEC as required by law.

The independent non-profit Center for Responsible Politics explains to the public how Federal law allows an elected official to set up not only his campaign fund to pay for his campaign expenses but also to set up his own leadership PAC.  The Mayor of Cincinnati, another Cincinnati Councilmember, and a significant portion of members of Congress have leadership PACs which they control.  Federal law authorizes a leadership PAC to receive donations and in turn to make donations to other candidates...

The government has, contrary to Federal law and publicly available records, falsely said PG’s federally approved leadership PAC was “secretly controlled” by him and that the fund received $40,000 in donations that were “hidden” and unlawfully received “face-to-face.” 

It is unjust for the government to use falsehoods to undercut PG’s presumption of innocence.  It unlawfully tarnishes his reputation by misleading the public about how a lawful leadership PAC operates under the law and how the public record shows he followed the law regarding his PAC.