A Democrat on the Cincinnati City Council who was favored to be the city’s next mayor was arrested on Thursday and now faces federal charges of attempted extortion, bribery, and wire fraud, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.
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 Enquirer.
If convicted, Sittenfeld faces upwards of 20 years in federal prison.
Soliciting secret donations
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.”
Sittenfeld pleads innocent
For his part, Sittenfeld has proclaimed his innocence and insisted that he did nothing wrong, according to local NBC affiliate WLWT. “I am innocent,” he said. “The allegations against me are simply not true.”
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.”
Despite his plea of innocence, there are widespread calls, including from his fellow Democrats, for Sittenfeld to resign his position.
Based on his statement, however, it appears that at least for now, he has no intention of doing so.