The Cincinnati office of the FBI has had more impact on local politics in the last year than voters.
On Thursday, a third member of the nine-person Cincinnati City Council was arrested and indicted on federal bribery and corruption charges. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, brother of novelist Curtis Sittenfeld, was arrested Thursday in a case involving fake developers and a former Cincinnati Bengal who helped blow the whistle on the scandals.
Considered the front-runner for the mayoral race, Sittenfeld was also known statewide thanks to a 2016 U.S. Senate run, in which he lost in the Democratic primary. One council colleague was indicted in February, another just two weeks ago.
That’s a third of the nine-member council. U.S. Attorney David DeVillers, who is leading the charge, has said there is a “culture of corruption” in the city leaving political insiders asking who might be next .
Will there be more? Chris Hoffman, the FBI special agent-in-charge in Cincinnati, said his public corruption taskforce remains in place.
“We’re standing watch,” Hoffman said Thursday.
All those indicted are accused of selling their votes and influence to developers eager to capitalize on the urban revival occurring across the county.
The first to fall was Tamaya Dennard, a 40-year-old Black Democrat and first-time elected official, who brought her own folding chair to her swearing-in ceremony. It was a homage to Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress, who said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Dennard has pleaded guilty to accepting $15,000 as part of a scheme to exchange her votes for money. She has yet to be sentenced, but resigned her seat on council.
The second, indicted earlier this month, was Jeff Pastor. A Black Republican with a Libertarian bent, Pastor is also a first-time politician hailing from one of Cincinnati historically Black and impoverished neighborhood.
The 36-year-oldformer Navy Reserves and Army National Guard member – and self-described ‘polyamorous atheist’ -was narrowly elected in 2017, the same year as Dennard.
Prosecutors say Pastor and an associate accepted $55,000 in bribes in connection with a development headed up by Former Cincinnati Bengal Chinedum Ndukwe, who was secretly working with the FBI.
DeVillers said Ndukwe and other developers were tired of being “shaken down” by politicians.
On Thursday, the biggest shock came. Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld – who many assumed would be Cincinnati next mayor – was also indicted in connection with soliciting and accepting cash in connection with Ndukwe’s development project.
Corruption in Cincinnati: One-third of city council has been arrested on bribery charges this year
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