Cincinnati councilor Wendell Young is charged with his involvement in the SMS case, which involved four other city councilors in 2018.
Young was charged with record manipulation for allegedly deleting text messages related to the so-called “Gang of Five” case.
In a press release, Special Prosecutor Patrick Hanley wrote, “The grand jury has determined that there is a likely reason Councilor Young violated the law and tampered with files. It is my intention to bring this charge to court and prove his guilt. “This offense beyond any doubt.”
The charge is said to carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
WVXU has approached Young for comment. His attorney Scott Croswell says they have reviewed the indictment and intend to aggressively defend the charges.
Earlier this week, Young told other local media outlets that he had been offered a plea deal which he turned down.
The Cincinnati Business Courier also reports that Croswell told a judge in 2019 that “Young had deleted (failed to do) the texts ‘months’ prior to the warrant because he had already turned them over to the city law firm and published them in local media. “
Hamilton County Attorney Joe Deters appointed Hanley, a Cincinnati lawyer specializing in white collar crime, as a special attorney in December 2019. In September 2020, Hanley said he was not bringing charges against any of the five, but his investigation was ongoing.
Hanley tells WVXU that he does not expect any further prosecution or investigation.
The five – Tamaya Dennard, Greg Landsman, Chris Seelbach, PG Sittenfeld and Young – admitted breaking the law in 2019. The case dates back to text messages exchanged between the group in 2018 in which they discussed city business and made decisions in violation of Ohio’s Sunshine Act. The city paid $ 101,000 to settle the case, including $ 90,000 for plaintiffs’ legal fees and $ 11,000 in fines.
The city also spent $ 75,000 on two outside law firms to handle the case against the council members until prosecutors resumed their representation.
Three of the five remain on the council: Seelbach, Landsman and Young. Tamaya Dennard resigned from the city council in March 2019 after she was arrested for federal extortion, bribery and wire transfer fraud for allegedly offering to exchange her council votes for money. PG Sittenfeld was suspended in December on allegations of federal corruption.
The SMS case is unrelated to separate cases of bribery and other allegations against Dennard, Sittenfeld and suspended councilor Jeff Pastor.
This story has been updated to reflect that Sittenfeld’s council status is “suspended”.