Federal officials arrested Cincinnati Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard Tuesday for allegedly trying to sell her council vote for money. The councilwoman faces up to 50 years in prison if found guilty of these corruption charges.
Dennard has been charged with wire fraud, bribery and extortion. The charges come from her interaction with an unnamed FBI source between August and December 2019.
“Dennard engaged in a scheme to defraud the citizens of Cincinnati of her honest services as a council member,” FBI agent Nathan Holbrook said in an affidavit released Tuesday. “She engaged in acts and attempted acts of bribery and extortion, attempting to exchange her votes for money.”
The affidavit details, through recorded conversations and text messages, how Dennard said she would vote for the Hilltop land swap proposal in exchange for $10,000. Furthermore, she agreed to a $5,000 payment after the second vote, according to the affidavit.
The Hilltop land swap approval was needed to build a music venue by Cincinnati’s waterfront. Cincinnati City Council rejected the land swap deal in October; Dennard voted in favor of the deal.
Here is a text message exchange between Dennard and the unnamed person:
CHS: So I’ll give you ten thousand now…
CHS: … and you’re, you’re good with sup… your’e good with supporting Hilltop’s proposal to do the land swap…
Dennard: Mmm-hmm. Yes.
CHS:…when it comes before council? We’re… cool awesome.
CHS: And then, and then I think as this thing goes through, I mean, if… probably the most, the most important vote will be the, the first vote and then there’s probably going to be a second vote and if you can hold on, you know, I can give you the five thousand after that second vote if that’s good with you.
Dennard: Um, yeah, that’s, that’s fine.
Dennard said she needed the money for personal expenses such as rent, attorney fees and a car down payment, according to the affidavit.
After receiving the first payment of $10,000 the councilwoman deposited it into her bank account. However, after receiving the $5,000 payment Dennard booked two seats for a flight to Florida. Financial records show that she spent over $4,000 on the trip.
After returning from her trip, the 40-year-old continued to reach out to this unnamed citizen requesting around $500. It is not known what this money would have been used for.
Dennard, who has been on the Cincinnati City Council since 2017, was released after being arrested. She has surrendered her passport.
When asked about the situation, Dennard’s lawyer Erik Laursen defended his client.
“I don’t believe that she’s done anything unethical, or illegal, and we’ll be looking to fight that,” Laursen said, according to Fox 19.
Questions remain if Dennard will continue to serve on Cincinnati’s city council after being arrested. The city’s charter does not address if a council member can still be part of the council if they have been charged with a crime. If she is found guilty, Ohio law dictates that she will be removed.
A preliminary hearing is set for March 16.
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Zachery Schmidt is the digital editor of Star News Digital Media. If you have any tips, email Zachery at [email protected]
Photo “Tamaya Dennard” by Tamaya Dennard. Background Photo “Cincinnati City Hall” by Greg Hume. CC BY-SA 3.0.