Ravenstahl voices confidence in Police Chief Harper

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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Friday he is comfortable with the city's contracting process and its police chief, despite federal criminal charges against a former city systems analyst and a former friend of Chief Nate Harper.

"I've talked to the chief," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "Certainly he has professed to me that he's done nothing wrong. And at this point he has my full confidence."

The mayor's comments came after he spoke at a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Courthouse. It was the same building in which the former analyst, Christine Ann Kebr, 56, of Castle Shannon, pleaded guilty to conspiracy last month. She faces sentencing April 4.

She admitted to taking two bribes, totaling $6,000, and steering a $327,000 police radio installation contract to a firm tied to entrepreneur Art Bedway. Mr. Bedway has pleaded not guilty to related charges of mail fraud, bribery and conspiracy.

A bodybuilder and founder of Carnegie-based Victory Security, Mr. Bedway, 63, of Robinson, is a former close friend of the chief. For a time, Victory Security employed Cynthia Harper, a retired city police officer and the wife of the chief, as a consultant.

In a September 2011 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story chronicling ties between Mr. Bedway and the Harpers, the chief declined to say precisely when his wife worked for Victory. "She ended that when [competitors in the security industry] were saying she was a ghost employee," he said then. "We don't need the headaches."

Mr. Bedway created Alpha Outfitters in July 2006. Though it was ostensibly run by a woman, Lois Kolarik, she was an employee of Mr. Bedway, and federal prosecutors have said that she was just a straw owner.

Chief Harper was promoted to the top spot in the city police bureau in late October 2006.

According to prosecutors, Mr. Bedway, Ms. Kebr and an unnamed person met around Oct. 27, 2006, to discuss Alpha Outfitters. Around May 2007, Mr. Bedway and Ms. Kebr met at Victory Security's office, according to the criminal charge against her, and drafted Alpha Outfitters' bid for the job of replacing communications equipment in police cars. She then engineered the city's process to ensure that Alpha Outfitters got the contract.

The city paid around $330,000 under the contract. Ms. Kebr has admitted to taking two bribes of $3,000 each.

Ms. Kebr left the city's employ in July 2011, after 10 years in computer information systems. She was then earning $60,591 a year.

"We put trust in our employees and trust them to do the right thing," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "We do have safeguards in place. But the reality is that if somebody chooses to break the law like she did, it's difficult to prevent.

"The good news is that it was caught and, of course, proven," the mayor said. "But I do believe that not just in the police bureau but across the city we have good systems in place to evaluate contracting. And I'm confident that this is an isolated incident that isn't taking place across the city."

Chief Harper said in September 2011 that he avoided any involvement in the selection of Alpha Outfitters, because of his friendship with Mr. Bedway. He said then that he hadn't spoken to Mr. Bedway in about a year.

Asked whether Chief Harper was a subject of any investigation, Mr. Ravenstahl said: "I don't know much more than anybody else, to be honest with you. Until I hear otherwise, the rumor mill is there, you're hearing different things, that's the nature of our business. But at this point I feel as if he's still equipped to do the job and I've asked him to remain focused on doing his job."

Mr. Ravenstahl said neither he nor anyone in his administration has been called to appear before any grand jury on the topic.

On Thursday, police spokeswoman Diane Richard said Chief Harper has no knowledge of any ongoing investigation. He has been off work attending to a family matter and unavailable for interviews.

Mr. Bedway's attorney, Martin Dietz, declined comment this week. U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton's spokeswoman declined comment. Ms. Kebr's attorney could not be reached for comment.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. First Published January 19, 2013 5:00 AM


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