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Former Cincinnati councilwoman Tamaya Dennard says her decision to accept $15,000 in exchange for votes was an attempt to gain financial stability and “a mistake” that will follow her “for the rest of my life.”

In a letter to the federal judge who is scheduled to sentence Dennard next month, Dennard said she had to take out loans during her 2017 campaign to help with housing expenses. She also was paying $900 a month for student loans, she said.

“I couldn’t sustain,” Dennard said in the letter, which was filed in advance of her sentencing in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, now set for Nov. 24.

“I accept full responsibility for my actions. But the story of a politician looking to turn her seat into a cash cow isn’t mine. It’s not even remotely close,” she said. “I was trying to gain stability so that I could focus more on my job. I made a terrible mistake that I will pay for, for the rest of my life.”

Dennard, who was elected after a low budget campaign that promised a shake-up of City Hall, said she tried and failed to find a second job to help support her council position. No one was willing to hire her, she said, because “the demands of City Hall would leave no time for me to assist their organization.”

Dennard also said she failed to obtain loans from several banks and accredited lenders because of bad credit and a debt-to-income ratio that “was way out of sorts.”

She said she intended to repay the money, and only asked for an amount she “could pay back without adding more stress to my life.”

Dennard was paid $65,000 a year as a council member, but by July 2019 she was having financial problems. That’s when she received the first of two $500 loans from a fellow councilmember.

Those loans were not considered unethical. But it was the $15,000 she received in the fall of 2019 in exchange for her support of a deal related to construction of a music venue at The Banks that led to the charges. Court documents detail how in September 2019 Dennard requested and received a $10,000 cashier’s check, then $5,000 in cash from an attorney involved in development efforts. That person then went to the FBI.

In her letter to Judge Susan Dlott, Dennard also explained her decision – days after receiving part of the $15,000 – to spend $4,000 to go on a vacation with a friend to Clearwater Beach, Florida.

Dennard said she was raised in a family that sometimes didn’t have enough money to for utilities and couldn’t afford family vacations. The trip to a Florida resort, she said, was a necessary break after years of hard work as well as fending off personal attacks about her appearance, sexual orientation and background.

“For the first time in my life, I took an actual vacation,” she said. “The scrutiny, the fatigue I felt, and the mental depletion was starting to take its toll.”

Dennard’s letter does not mention things that have been made public in recent years.

Dennard was living in the Baldwin building in Walnut Hills, which describes itself as having luxury apartments. She moved there last year, but eviction proceedings were later filed on that unit after Dennard failed to pay rent.

She also at one point drove a 2015 Lexus ES 350, which she reported stolen from the parking garage of her building. In March, the car turned up crashed into a house. The driver, who was not Dennard, is facing receiving stolen property charges. 

Additionally, Dennard missed several council meetings in the months leading up to her indictment. Facebook posts show she traveled to the Dead Sea in 2018 and the Grand Canyon in February of 2019.

Dennard, 41, pleaded guilty in June to honest services wire fraud, meaning she schemed to defraud citizens and the city council of their right to honest services. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, but Dennard’s attorneys are asking Dlott to sentence her to a term of home incarceration.

In a sentencing memorandum, attorney Stephanie Kessler said substantial community service “can serve as a punishment but one that still assists those who she hurt.”

“(Dennard) can learn how to overcome her mistakes and then teach others to do the same,” Kessler said.

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