Former Cincinnati City Councilmember Tamaya Dennard pleaded not guilty in federal court today on bribery, wire fraud and attempted extortion charges.
Dennard entered her plea before federal Magistrate Judge Stephanie K. Bowman at 1:30 p.m today. Her case will continue before federal Judge Susan Dlott.
A grand jury March 12 approved charges that are identical to those on which Dennard was arraigned on Feb. 25, after federal agents arrested her outside a downtown Starbucks. She subsequently resigned from council March 4.
Dennard has denied guilt and says she will fight the charges.
"After weeks of staying in the house, I’ve slowly started venturing out in public," she posted on Facebook March 12. "The hugs, fist bumps and handshakes everywhere I go in conjunction with your messages of support have really kept me afloat. Thank you. Protecting my mental and emotional well-being have been my focus, everything else has been secondary."
An affidavit by an FBI agent alleges that between August and December last year, Dennard solicited $15,000 from an unnamed source — later revealed to be Frost Brown Todd attorney Tom Gabelman, who represents Hamilton County on The Banks development on Cincinnati's riverfront.
The city and county were locked in a complex battle over a land swap seen as necessary at the time to clear the way for a music venue at the development. Dennard allegedly asked Gabelman for a $10,000 payment and subsequent $5,000 payment in exchange for two votes in favor of the land swap, which would have benefited the county.
Dennard voted in favor of the deal, though it did not pass the council.
The affidavit says Gabelman declined Dennard's request and went to federal officials. They encouraged him to keep text messages from Dennard and record conversations about the exchange. Gabelman allegedly provided Dennard with the money on the advice of the FBI.
The three counts of wire fraud carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The two counts of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds could result in another 10 years, while the attempted extortion charges could carry up to 20 years.
Today's hearing was brief and Dennard was released as she awaits trial.