CINCINNATI (AP) — A Cincinnati city council member accused of felony tampering with records for allegedly deleting text messages related to an ongoing investigation pleaded no contest Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing official business.
Wendell Young was fined $100. He declined to comment during or after the hearing.
A Hamilton County grand jury had indicted Young in April and his trial was scheduled to start Monday. The 76-year-old Democrat could have faced up to three years in prison if convicted on that count.
The charge stemmed 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, and Young and four other council members texted together about keeping Black and regaining power they believed Cranley had usurped.
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 deleting the texts from his phone, saying he thought they were no longer needed.
A special prosecutor investigated whether the texts themselves or the missing texts rose to the level of a crime and alleged 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 has held his council seat for 11 years after being appointed in 2010. Term limits prevented him from running for council again, and he made a failed attempt to run for mayor earlier this year.