P.G. Sittenfeld, a former member of the Cincinnati City Council, has been sentenced by a U.S. District Court Judge to serve 16 months in prison, followed by one year of probation. Additionally, he will be required to pay a fine of $40,000 for his involvement in accepting $20,000 in bribes.
Sittenfeld was sentenced over corruption charges and allegations that he used “his power over city business to extract campaign contributions,” said a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Ohio.
Sittenfeld has Jewish heritage, though he is Catholic, and is well-connected to the Cincinnati Jewish community. Several Cincinnati Jews wrote letters to the judge overseeing Sittenfeld’s case, vouching for his character.
Sittenfeld was born and raised in Cincinnati and is an alumnus of Seven Hills School and Princeton University. He was once a rising star in Cincinnati politics. In 2011, he was the youngest person ever to be elected to city council. He was a popular candidate and received the second-most votes of the 23 candidates that year.
He also ran for Senate in 2015 but was beaten in the primary by former Governor Ted Strickland. Sittenfeld had announced his candidacy for mayor in 2020 before being arrested and charged by the FBI.
Sittenfeld was involved in a text message scandal in 2018, in which he and four other city council members exchanged messages and planned how to vote. The five members acknowledged that they violated Ohio’s Open Meeting Act by discussing public matters through private text messages and emails with one another. The messages were revealed after Mark Miller, the leader of a conservative anti-tax group, sued the city, which resulted in a $101,000 payment by the city.
After a two-year FBI investigation, a federal grand jury decided to charge Sittenfeld with two counts each of honest service wire fraud, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and attempted extortion by a government official in 2020. Federal agents arrested him at his home on November 19, 2020.
In 2022, a jury delivered a verdict, finding Sittenfeld guilty on one charge of bribery and one charge of extortion. However, he was acquitted of both counts of honest services wire fraud and one count each of bribery and extortion.
Sittenfeld’s conviction centers around allegations of using his voting power over business projects to coerce businesses into giving him campaign donations. During investigations, undercover FBI agents sent bribes of $20,000 to Sittenfeld, posing as representatives of a development project.
Federal prosecutors claimed that in 2018, he accepted these bribes as four checks from LLCs to his political action committee. The understanding was that he would secure a veto-proof majority for the approval of a development project at 435 Elm Street in Downtown.
To gather evidence, the FBI relied on former Bengals player Chinedum Ndukwe as an informant. Ndukwe had been under investigation by the FBI for money laundering, among other allegations, before assisting in the Sittenfeld case.
Through the trial, several recorded conversations between the agents and Sittenfeld were played, including one where Sittenfeld said he could “deliver the votes.” This evidence was pivotal in convincing the jury that corruption and bribery had taken place.
Sittenfeld does not have to report to prison until December, and his attorneys are planning to appeal the sentence.