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A Democrat on the Cincinnati City Council who was favored to be the city’s next mayor has been arrested and now faces federal charges of attempted extortion, bribery, and wire fraud.
The charges against Democrat Alexander P.G. Sittenfeld stem from an alleged scheme to accept bribes — in the form of donations funneled to a secret political action committee (PAC) that Sittenfeld controlled — “in exchange for favorable votes on [real estate] development deals,” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
If convicted, Sittenfeld faces upwards of 20 years in federal prison.
He is the third member of Cincinnati’s nine-member council to be arrested this year on federal corruption charges.
“Prosecutors said Sittenfeld’s arrest is related to a downtown development project that an undercover agent posing as a real estate investor wanted to get off the ground. Sittenfeld faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted,” NBC News reported.
For his part, Sittenfeld has proclaimed his innocence and insisted that he did nothing wrong. “I am innocent,” he said. “The allegations against me are simply not true.”
The front-runner to be Cincinnati’s next mayor was arrested at home this week by federal agents for allegedly accepting $40,000 in bribes, further tainting a city council beset by corruption charges. https://t.co/6wwEgARv22
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) November 21, 2020
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the scheme allegedly began in 2018 and involved a former Cincinnati Bengals football player-turned-developer who was having issues getting permission from the city to move forward with a large redevelopment project in the city’s downtown.
Sittenfeld had solicited a donation in order to help facilitate approval of the project — but unbeknownst to him, the player was actually a cooperating witness with federal law enforcement officials, and three “business partners” the player later brought into the deal were actually undercover agents.
According to the indictment, over the course of nearly two years, Sittenfeld solicited and received donations to his secret PAC — also likely in violation of federal election laws — totaling $40,000 from the undercover agents, each in the amount of $5,000 and done carefully and deliberately to avoid scrutiny.
“It’s all part of one scheme,” U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said during a news conference announcing the arrest and charges, as the Enquirer reported. “The promises, the accepting of cash, the hiding of where it’s coming from.”
Cincinnati City Council Member Arrested, Charged with Accepting $40k in Bribes: FBI agents arrested Alexander Sittenfeld, a Cincinnati city council member, after a federal grand jury charged him in a sealed indictment. https://t.co/ZlgpBZDGMD
— FBI Cincinnati (@FBICincinnati) November 20, 2020
Sittenfeld has proclaimed his innocence and insisted that he did nothing wrong.
In a broader statement, the council member wrote: “The attempt to portray proper assistance to a project bringing jobs and growth to our city that benefits the public is a gross overreach and an injustice.”
“I stand strongly on my record of public service, including providing help that’s in the public interest to anyone, whether they have ever made a political contribution to me or not. My public service has always been guided by doing what’s best for Cincinnati,” he added. “Please know this: I do not give up and will not give up. I intend to keep fighting — fighting these false allegations, fighting as your elected Council Member, and fighting for our city and its future.”