Cincinnati City Council member Wendell Young is pleading not guilty to federal charges of tampering with records. He entered the written plea Thursday.
Young was indicted about two weeks ago by a Hamilton County grand jury, according to court records. He could get up to three years in prison if convicted of the felony.
"The Grand Jurors of the County of Hamilton...find and present that WENDELL YOUNG, from on or about the 3rd day of January, Two Thousand Eighteen to on or about the 16th day of October, Two Thousand Eighteen... Knowing that he had no privilege to do so, and with purpose to defraud, or knowing he was facilitating a fraud, falsified, destroyed, removed, concealed, altered, defaced, or mutilated a writing, computer software, data or record, to wit: TEXT MESSAGES, and the writing or the data, or the computer software, or record was kept by or belonged to a local, state or federal government agency," the count said, in part.
There will be a hearing for the case on May 12.
Young was the latest member of the "Gang of Five" to be charged after a 2018 texting scandal.
Young allegedly destroyed text messages that were considered evidence for a lawsuit that he was part of. As CityBeat previously reported, in 2018, conservative activist Mark Miller and his attorney Brian Shrive, both connected to the conservative group Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), filed a lawsuit seeking private texts exchanged among Cincinnati City Council members Young, Tamaya Dennard, Greg Landsman, Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld. In those, the group discussed the impending ouster of then-Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black by Mayor John Cranley, as well as other city business.
Miller and Shrive contended that the texts between the five council members represented a violation of open meetings laws. Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman ruled that the city must release all texts sent by any of the five council members during the time period in question.
After Black's departure, a series of appeals and an admission from the City of Cincinnati that it had, indeed, violated open meetings laws, some of the messages, including emails, were released.
But not all of them. Some of Young's messages were among those that were missing or destroyed. One of them reportedly was, "Amen! We're the new gang of five."
"At some point between January 3, 2018 and October 16, 2018, Young knowingly and with the purpose to defraud, destroyed text messages that belonged to a government entity," Patrick J. Hanley, special prosecutor, said in a press release. "The grand jury has decided that probable cause exists that Councilman Young has committed a violation of the law, tampering with records. It is my intention of taking that charge into court and establishing he is guilty of that offense beyond a reasonable doubt."
Earlier this year, Young had filed paperwork with the Hamilton County Board of Elections to add his name to the mayoral ballot, but the BOE found that he did not have the required number of valid signatures.
Young is the fourth Cincinnati City Council member charged with a felony since February 2020.
A carousel of corruption cases began last year when council member Tamaya Dennard was indicted on federal bribery charges related to her solicitation of $15,000 from a local attorney. Dennard resigned in March 2020, pleaded guilty in June, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Council member Jeff Pastor was charged in November 2020 on 10 federal counts of bribery, extortion, money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
That same month, council member P.G. Sittenfeld was arrested on a six-count indictment related to a scheme that allegedly traded cash for votes relating to the development of the former Convention Place Mall.