Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor suspended following bribery arrest

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Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Pastor has been suspended, a process initiated by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost after Pastor was arrested on federal bribery charges. Pastor accepted the suspension without a fight.

Pastor will be paid his $65,000 salary while temporarily suspended.

“While allegations of public corruption are resolved in the courtroom, a suspension is the right course of action as even the appearance of corruption has no place in government,” Yost said.

When Yost filed the suspension last week, he said Pastor’s alleged crimes showed “a shocking lack of integrity.”

It will now be up to Hamilton County Probate Court Judge Ralph “Ted” Winkler, a Republican, to name Pastor’s temporary replacement. It’s unclear how long that process will take, since this is the first time the temporary suspension process has been used in Cincinnati.

Pastor is one of three Cincinnati councilmembers arrested and accused of pay-to-play schemes this year. Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard was arrested in February and pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud in July. There had been a threat of suspension, but Dennard resigned before any action was taken. She is scheduled to be sentenced in U.S. District Court Tuesday.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was arrested Nov. 21 on federal bribery charges alleging he sold a vote on a development deal in exchange for campaign contributions. Yost is seeking Sittenfeld’s suspension, but the process started Monday. Sittenfeld said he is innocent and plans to continue serving on the council and proceed with his 2021 mayoral campaign.

Pastor, a Republican elected in 2017 to a four-year term that commenced in 2018, was arrested Nov. 10 for leading what authorities describe as a brazen bribery scheme involving payoffs for help with city development projects.

Federal prosecutors accuse Pastor, who joined council in January 2018, of soliciting money from developers within months of taking office and, in some instances, accepted bags of cash in return for his vote or other favorable treatment.

A friend of Pastor’s, Tyran Marshall, also faces federal charges and is described by prosecutors as “a middleman” who arranged for some payments and set up a charitable nonprofit through which Pastor funneled bribes.

Prosecutors say undercover FBI agents posing as developers used electronic surveillance and at least two whistleblowers to unravel the pay-to-play scheme, which included a trip to Miami with a developer and solicitations by Pastor for cash, investment opportunities and jobs.

Throughout the investigation, prosecutors say, Pastor suggested dollar amounts for the bribes and directed the agents on how to pay them.

He has said through his lawyer, Ben Dusing, that he would fight the charges.

There is no provision in the Cincinnati Charter that addresses what happens if a council member is accused or corruption – or even if they’re convicted of it. Instead, it’s a court-driven process.

Yost asked the Ohio Supreme Court to suspend Pastor, but Pastor agreed to the suspension Nov. 20, Yost said.

A citizen has filed paperwork to remove Pastor from office, a process that takes place in probate court. A hearing on the matter is set before Winkler on Tuesday, with a full trial on the matter possibly happening as soon as Monday.

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