COLUMBUS, Ohio — Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, a city mayoral candidate who’s viewed as a rising star within statewide Democratic circles, was arrested Thursday morning on federal corruption charges, according to federal officials.
The FBI arrested Sittenfeld, 36, at his home in Cincinnati around 9:30 a.m. Thursday, according to U.S. Attorney David DeVillers. A criminal complaint unsealed Thursday morning in federal court says Sittenfeld has been charged with bribery and attempted extortion.
The complaint says Sittenfeld solicited and accepted $40,000 donations, made to a political action committee supporting his bid for mayor, from a city developer and two undercover FBI agents posing as the developer’s business partners. In exchange, Sittenfeld in December 2018 promised to “deliver the votes” on City Council for a development project, according to the complaint.
(Scroll down to read the full written complaint.)
Sittenfeld has a statewide profile beyond Cincinnati, having run unsuccessfully in the 2016 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. The arrest is the latest in a string of high-profile corruption cases federal officials have undertaken in Ohio this year. The investigation has tangential connections — including apparently the use of the same undercover agents with the same cover story — to another case that led to the arrest in July of then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican.
Sittenfeld pleaded not guilty while appearing virtually in a federal court hearting in Cincinnati on Thursday afternoon. He was released on his own recognizance, as long as he met conditions like surrendering his passport and agreeing to attend future court hearings. He did not immediately return a message.
The details, as described in a 20-page charging document unsealed in federal court on Thursday morning, also resemble the investigation that led to the arrest of Republican Cincinnati Councilman Jeff Pastor earlier this month. Although unlike Pastor, the money Sittenfeld accepted was to benefit his political campaign, while Pastor is accused of pocketing cash and accepting free travel, federal officials said.
The complaint says Sittenfeld solicited the contributions from a Cincinnati developer, who prosecutors said is former Cincinnati Bengals player Chinedum Ndukwe, in October 2018. Sittenfeld was mindful of a city election weeks later in which city voters ended up approving a charter amendment limiting how many contributions a candidate could accept from an LLC, the complaint says.
The developer told Sittenfeld he could introduce Sittenfeld to business partners — the undercover FBI agents — and Sittenfeld tried to arrange to meet them before new restrictions were passed, according to the complaint.
In a recorded phone conversation on Nov. 2, 2018, Ndukwe told Sittenfeld he could arrange the meeting, but his partners wanted to know “it’s gonna be a yes vote, you know, no matter what,” the complaint says.
Sittenfeld responded: “you know, nothing can be illegal like…illegally nothing can be a quid pro quo. And I know that’s not what you’re saying either. But what I can say is that I’m always super pro-development and…