Written By: Hunter Ellis, Managing Multimedia Editor
Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young became the fourth Cincinnati council member to be officially accused of a crime while in office, after being indicted on tampering charges late last week.
Thursday morning, Young was indicted by a Grand Jury in Hamilton County on a felony charge of tampering with records.
The records Young allegedly tampered with are text messages from a group chat in 2018. This group chat, which included current councilmembers Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman and Young, as well as former councilmembers P.G. Sittenfeld and Tamaya Dennard, violated Ohio’s Open Meetings Act.
The Open Meetings Act is a part of a set of laws, otherwise known as Sunshine Laws, which were put in place to make information about government bodies more accessible to the public. At a federal level, Congress passed the Government in the Sunshine Act of 1976 directly as a response to a corruption scandal — coming just two years after President Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of Watergate.
Specifically, Ohio’s version of the Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to host meetings open to the public if the body will discuss, vote on or otherwise decide public business, according to the Attorney General’s website.
Yet, in this group chat, the five council members admitted to violating the Open Meetings Act, using the chat to discuss — among other things — official city business. The messages violated Ohio’s Sunshine Law because the group of five councilmembers, making up a majority of the nine-person city council, discussed the firing of former City Manager Harry Black.
The subsequent proceedings, now known as the “Gang of Five” scandal, would cost the city over $100,000 in settlement and legal fees.
In September of 2020, Attorney Patrick Hanley, who was hired to investigate the scandal, announced that he would not be pursuing criminal charges for dereliction of duty against the “Gang of Five.”
Yet, tampering charges were still pursued against Young, as he was unable to provide copies of the messages when he was subpoenaed for the texts in November of 2018.
A statement on the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s website from Hanley read, in part, “At some point between January 3, 2018 and October 16, 2018, Young knowingly and with the purpose to defraud, destroyed text messages that belonged to a government entity.”
Scott Croswell, Young’s attorney, noted he will defend Young against the indictment of tampering vigorously.
Meanwhile, another “Gang of Five” member, Tamaya Dennard, has since resigned from city council and pleaded guilty to bribery charges after allegedly accepting money for favorable votes.
Two other councilmembers, “Gang of Five” members Sittenfeld and Councilman Jeff Pastor, are currently on leave from council after also being indicted last November on bribery charges.
Cincinnati Councilwoman Betsy Sundermann called the Young incident part of a “revolving door of corruption” at city hall in a tweet on Thursday.
Young is expected to appear in court over the next week, while investigations into the actions of Sittenfeld and Pastor are still ongoing.