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A third member of the Cincinnati council arrested on federal corruption charges

CINCINATI – The favorite, who will be the next mayor of Cincinnati, was arrested at home this week by federal agents for accepting bribes of $ 40,000, questioning his once bright political future and further tarnishing the city council accused in corruption

Alexander Sitenfeld, known as PG, is charged with two counts of fraud with honest services, bribery and attempted extortion, the federal prosecutor’s office said.

He is the third member of the nine-member council of Cincinnati arrested this year on charges of federal corruption.

Prosecutors said Sitenfeld̵

7;s arrest was linked to a downtown development project that an undercover agent posing as a real estate investor wanted to get off the ground. Sitenfeld faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, prosecutors said.

Prior to his arrest, the 36-year-old Sitenfeld represented a new generation of future political leaders, said David Niven, a professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati.

“He had a clear path to the town hall. He presented himself as young, the next, the newest, the best and the brightest in politics, “Niven said. “He proposed what seemed like a new, cleaner policy, but apparently the allegations are rather old.”

As part of an alleged scheme to show his influence, Sitenfeld provided voting data for an undercover agent who showed his political popularity, federal prosecutors said.

“Every successful developer and business leader in Cincinnati has already made their bets with me,” said Sitenfeld, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2016, according to the indictment. “I can vote for more votes than anyone else.”

Many of his colleagues on the council would not argue on this issue, although it may no longer matter.

“It is very sad. I’ve known PG and his family for years, and I couldn’t be more shocked, stunned, and disappointed, “said Councilor David Mann, a Democrat who has twice been mayor.

For his part, Sitenfeld said he was innocent of the charges.

“The allegations against me are simply not true,” he tweeted on Friday. “Trying to portray appropriate aid for a project that will bring jobs and growth to our city that benefits society is gross crime and injustice. I strongly support my public service files. “

He did not answer phone calls, asking for further comments.

Sitenfeld’s arrest comes after former councilor Tamaya Denard, a 40-year-old Democrat, pleaded guilty to fraud with honest services.

In 2019, Denard, the councilor’s first term, is believed to have taken action and attempted bribery and extortion while trying to exchange his votes for money, according to federal prosecutors.

She faces up to 20 years in prison and fines and restitution for claiming to have asked between $ 10,000 and $ 15,000 from an individual to pay her expenses, NBC 5 reported in Cincinnati.

Months passed, and City Hall seemed to begin a new chapter when the page turned to Republican Councilor Jeff Pastor, 36. Last week, federal agents charged him with 10 counts of bribery, extortion, money laundering and fraud.

Prosecutors say he asked for and received a $ 55,000 bribe from August 2018 to February 2019 in exchange for promised formal actions related to projects before the council. The pastor pleaded not guilty.

“The city of Cincinnati is on its knees. We need drastic reform, unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the history of this city, “Hamilton County Republican President Alex Triantafilu wrote on Twitter. “Voters in this city need to make major changes in 2021, and they need to understand how much the mayor’s office is really broken.”

Sitenfeld was arrested after a federal grand jury this week charged him with a sealed indictment.

“Three of the nine of us are accused, this is crazy. I’m glad it’s being resolved and people are giving it up, “said Councilor Betsy Sunderman, a Republican. “I think he should resign. We cannot make him propose legislation and vote on things if he has taken a bribe.

“They (the residents) don’t trust any of us and I understand why they don’t trust any of us,” she added. “They think the government is dirty. It will take a lot or recovery trying to fix that.”

Just three days before Sittenfeld’s arrest, Sunderman announced plans to amend the city’s charter to allow the removal of any council member accused of a felony or unethical conduct.

“There is no provision in our city charter to remove a member of the council for unethical behavior,” Sunderman said. “You can be a member of the council and be convicted of killing 10 people and still not be expelled from the city council. This is a big problem. “

She said she needed 15,000 signatures to receive the proposal to amend the ballot in November 2021, after formally presenting it to city council members.

Sittenfeld, a Democrat who graduated from Princeton University, was born and raised in Cincinnati. After college, he received a Marshall Scholarship for postgraduate study at Oxford University, according to his board member’s page on the city’s website. He is serving his third term.

After announcing his candidacy for mayor, he was approved by unions and most community leaders and raised $ 700,000 for his campaign, making him the undisputed favorite in next year’s election.

Federal officials say Sitenfeld has accepted eight checks totaling $ 40,000, dating back to 2018, in exchange for “concrete actions” as a city official. He requested and received the money through a federally regulated policy committee that organizes and controls the alleged development, federal officials said.

The payments he repeatedly demanded were for a property in downtown Cincinnati, which was later transferred to the Cincinnati Port Authority, prosecutors said.

An undercover agent acting as a real estate investor has wanted to develop the property for years, but has been unable to move forward without the council’s approval, according to the indictment.

In November and December 2018, Sitenfeld promised he could “vote” in the city council to support a development project in exchange for four $ 5,000 installments for his PAC, the prosecutor said. They accepted the inspections in September and October 2019, they said.

Over the next few months, Sitenfeld said he had told investors he would put additional pressure on government officials involved in the development project.

Councilor Mann, 81, said the city prides itself on good governance and is one of the first in the country to adopt a form of governance. Even the son of a US president was once Mayor Charles Taft, whose father is former President William Taft, he said.

Mann, mayor of Cincinnati in 1981 and 1991, fought Sittenfeld in the mayoral race the following year.

“We all need to remember what it is about, it serves the public and for the better, and I don’t know how we went down that path,” Mann said. “It’s at odds with the history of this community in My experience.”

Niven, a political science professor, said numerous accusations against council members may have caused residents to lose confidence in those they once supported.

“There is a lot of pressure on the other council members,” Niven said. “The lesson that the community would rightly learn is cynical. It almost doesn’t matter who you vote for, their service to you may not be fair. And this is a sad conclusion. “

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