Last Thursday, P.G. Sittenfeld, a Democrat on the City Council who was elected in 2011 and had launched a run for mayor next year, was taken into custody at his home, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
He faces multiple charges of wire fraud, attempted extortion and accepting bribes in exchange for his vote to approve municipal development deals.
If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
Sittenfeld was the third elected official on the nine-member council to be arrested this year.
Sittenfeld’s arrest reportedly sent shockwaves through City Hall and cast a dark shadow over the mayoral race.
The indictment alleges the 36-year-old city leader masterminded a scheme that bilked local developers and funneled their money to a political action committee that he secretly controlled, the Enquirer reported.
The developers, however, turned out to be undercover FBI agents who had apparently gained Sittenfeld’s trust.
As the investigation unfolded from 2018 to 2019, eight checks totaling $40,000 were given to Sittenfeld on three occasions, the indictment states.
The indictment alleges Sittenfeld arranged the deal as a quid pro quo.
Court documents said the councilman wanted cash in exchange for his support of a plan to develop the former Convention Place Mall, a project reportedly spearheaded by former Bengals player Chinedum Ndukwe.
Reports said Ndukwe cooperated with federal investigators in building the case against Sittenfeld.
Instead of pocketing the money, Sittenfeld steered it to the PAC where he could remain insulated from involvement in the illegal scheme.
Prosecutors allege Sittenfeld was casually at ease in his dealings with the agents and regularly gave assurances about his acceptance of the illegal payments.
The indictment points to numerous meetings at a Columbus hotel involving Sittenfeld and the agents, as well as recordings of conversations, phone calls and text messages, the Enquirer reported.
Several conversations in 2018 were also revealed in which Sittenfeld promised to “deliver the votes.”
In other meetings with agents, Sittenfeld would specify the amounts of each “donation” and instructed his partners how to deliver the money to him, reports said.
“It’s all part of one scheme,” said U.S. Attorney David DeVillers, the lead prosecutor in the case, according to the Enquirer. “The promises, the accepting of cash, the hiding of where it’s coming from.”
Sittenfeld told undercover agents he planned to use his popularity and clout at City Hall to help him uphold his side of the deal.
“Don’t let these be my famous last words, but I can always get a vote to my left or a vote to my right,” Sittenfeld said in December 2018, according to the indictment.
In another conversation a month earlier, Sittenfeld specifically mentioned a “quid pro quo,” telling the agents that their donations should be viewed as an investment in him to deliver results.
“These guys want to know, I mean look, people want to invest in a winning endeavor, right?” Sittenfeld said, according to the indictment. “I want to give them the confidence and the comfort that that’s what they’re doing.”