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Cincinnati council member indicted for deleting texts

April 15, 2021 GMT

CINCINNATI (AP) — A Cincinnati city council member has been indicted on a tampering with records charge for allegedly deleting text messages related to an ongoing investigation, the latest council member to face wrongdoing allegations.

A Hamilton County grand jury handed up the indictment against Wendell Young, 75, on Wednesday.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the charge stems from an investigation related to Mayor John Cranley’s efforts to fire then-City Manager Harry Black in March 2018. Only the city council can fire the city manager. Young and four other council members texted together about keeping Black and regaining power they believed Cranley had usurped.

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Black eventually resigned, and Cincinnati resident Mark Miller filed a lawsuit alleging the five council members — a majority of the governing body — had violated Ohio’s Open Meetings Act by texting with each other about city business. A judge ordered all texts by the five council members to be preserved in case they were pertinent to the legal proceedings.

When it came time for authorities to look at the texts, some messages were missing from the phones of Young and another council member. The other council member said their phone had been damaged, resulting in lost texts, while Young admitted to deleting the texts from his phone, recently telling The Enquirer that he thought they were no longer needed since the newspaper had published some texts.

Pat Hanley, a special prosecutor who has been investigating whether the texts themselves or the missing texts rose to the level of a crime, said that between January and October of 2018, Young “knowingly and with the purpose to defraud, destroyed text messages that belonged to a government entity.”

Young told the newspaper he had been offered a plea deal, which he turned down, calling it “ridiculous.” He also described ongoing investigation as the “seamy and dirty side of politics.”

The Democrat could face up to three years in prison if he’s convicted.

Young is the fourth council member to face charges in recent months. Democrat Tamaya Dennard and P.G. Sittenfeld and Republican Jeff Pastor were charged last year in federal court in three separate alleged pay-to-play schemes.

Dennard, who resigned from council, pleaded guilty and is set to start serving her 18-month prison sentence in June. Pastor and Sittenfeld, who were charged in November, were suspended from council by the state. Both are fighting their charges in court.