On November 23, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced his intention to suspend Cincinnati City Council member PG Sittenfeld ’07, who was arrested on November 19 for cable fraud, bribery and attempted extortion.
In response to the corruption allegations, Sittenfeld posted an official statement on Twitter on November 20, stating, “I am innocent … My public service has always been guided by doing what is best for Cincinnati.”
Sittenfeld was elected to the Cincinnati City Council in 2011, making it the youngest elected member in its history. Since then, the Democratic rising star has played a prominent role in Cincinnati politics. He passed laws requiring landlords to provide residents with multiple payment options and launched a major initiative to help Cincinnati’s elderly population.
Sittenfeld ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate in 2016 and lost in the Democratic primary against former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. In July 2020, he announced his candidacy for the 2021 mayoral election in Cincinnati, where he was the favorite of four declared candidates.
While at the university, Sittenfeld was an English major, first class president, and writer for The Daily Princetonian. In an interview with The Prince in 2011, Sittenfeld remarked that “the Princeton spirit” that good people with good intentions could make a political difference “inspired him to seek office.
Earlier this month, the “Prince” named Sittenfeld one of the 29 “Most Influential Princetonians in Politics 2020”.
The evidence of Sittenfeld’s corruption allegations comes from an undercover FBI agent who claims he caught Sittenfeld accepting bribes for council votes with audio evidence from multiple meetings and phone calls listed in the full indictment. The agent was disguised as a real estate agent trying to get Cincinnati Council approval for real estate development.
After the agent council’s approval efforts, which were undertaken between 2017 and 2018, proved unsuccessful, Sittenfeld told the agent privately: “I can move more votes than any other individual person.” He then sold his vote and the influence of the Cincinnati Council to the agent to get approval for the real estate development request.
In 2018 and 2019, Sittenfeld is said to have accepted a total of 40,000 US dollars from the agent three times.
Instead of putting the money straight in your pocket, as David DeVillers, the US attorney for the southern district of Ohio, said, “This went into a political slush fund.”
As stated in the indictment, Sittenfeld said of the fund, “I honestly think a lot of people don’t even know I have it.”
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At the time of publication, the von Sittenfeld office did not respond to the request for comment.
If convicted, Sittenfeld could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
According to NBC News, Sittenfeld is facing widespread pressure, including from Councilor Betsy Sundermann, to resign from his position as a councilor.
“We can not get him to propose laws and vote on things if he takes bribes,” Sundermann told NBC in an interview.
However, Sittenfeld’s Twitter statement suggests no resignation plan. In conclusion, he wrote: “I intend to continue fighting as your elected councilor.”
The arrest of Sittenfeld is the third corruption case within the nine-member Cincinnati City Council.
In 2019, Cincinnati City Councilor Tamaya Dennard was charged with corruption. She pleaded guilty in June 2020 and faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $ 250,000.
A few months later, Cincinnati City Councilor Jeff Pastor was exposed to a similar allegation. He reportedly received bribes totaling $ 55,000 from 2018 to 2019. He has pleaded not guilty and is currently on a voluntary council suspension. If convicted in all ten cases, he faces up to 90 years in prison.
Now, after Sittenfeld’s arrest, a third of the Cincinnati City Council has been arrested for corruption.
This has raised concerns about the integrity of the council and its actions in the Cincinnati community.
One such member of the community is David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati, who believes “the remaining members of the council are under tremendous pressure.”
“The lesson the community would rightly take is cynical,” Niven told NBC News. “It almost doesn’t matter who you choose, their service to you cannot be honest.”
Sundermann agreed that Cincinnati residents “don’t trust any of us.”
“It’s going to take a lot of rebuilding to fix this,” she said.