All you need to know about the investigation of Pittsburgh police and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration


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In 2013, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette exposed numerous systemic problems in the city of Pittsburgh's 900-member police bureau, focusing on a lack of oversight of its personnel and finances.
 
As the year progressed, coverage broadened into an examination of the Pittsburgh mayor and his administration — as a parallel federal investigation that began with the police bureau did the same.
 
By year's end, the police chief had been forced out and indicted, the mayor had decided not to run for re-election, and the bureau was left trying to repair its tarnished image. Meanwhile, the federal investigation and the Post-Gazette's coverage remain ongoing.
 
Editors note: Explore the story in reverse chronological order. The most recent news is first, and this page will be updated until the story concludes.
 
(Who's who: The mayor, the police bureau and city departments)

 

Closing chapters — 2014 and beyond

Ravenstahl leaving tarnished legacy as Pittsburgh mayor

The conversations started with his family. He told them he was tired, that he didn't know if he could face another campaign cycle that would inevitably involve mud-slinging and dredging up of past mistakes. And he worried more about the toll it would take on those closest to him.

Prosecutor: Federal investigation of Pittsburgh 'ongoing'

A federal investigation of city of Pittsburgh government dealings continues, U.S. attorney David J. Hickton said Thursday, declining to detail the probe that has flown below the radar for months.

Former Pittsburgh police chief Nate Harper gets 18-month prison sentence

Ten character witnesses tried to persuade the judge to spare Harper from prison. "I made a mistake," Harper said before he was sentenced. "It has been devastating. I have tarnished the law enforcement community."

Changes and a chief's day in court — Winter 
Nathan Harper
Nathan Harper

Former Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper faces jail time, loss of pension

With former police Chief Nate Harper set to plead guilty, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette looks at what consequences he could face.

Former police chief pleads guilty in federal court

Former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper pleaded guilty to conspiracy at a hearing that left a question unanswered: Who did he conspire with?

Board votes to forfeit Harper's pension

The Policemen's Relief and Pension Fund board decided it had an obligation to return money Nate Harper paid into the fund and would decide after his sentencing whether to withhold some of that to cover restitution. Unlike private pensions, the retirement benefit of public servants can be rescinded if they commit certain crimes -- including theft from a government program but not including conspiracy or tax charges.

Report criticizes Pittsburgh police outside jobs

When former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper helped organize a private security firm with his subordinates, he did so in a “largely unregulated” environment governed by a handful of outdated and “unclear” policies, according to report by a consultant. Acting police Chief Regina McDonald said she hopes to present a new policy to the public safety director within a month.

Grand jury appearances continue — Summer and fall 
Art Bedway, center

Art Bedway, ex-friend of Nate Harper, pleads guilty in case that sparked federal investigation

Robinson entrepreneur Art Bedway pleaded guilty to helping to rig a contract for installing and maintaining police radios and computers. His attorney claimed that former police Chief Nate Harper masterminded the plot, roiling the waters of the federal probe into city dealings. Mr. Harper’s attorneys shot back -- saying he had nothing to do with the company that received the contract and never took money from Mr. Bedway.

Ravenstahl chief of staff Yarone Zober appears before grand jury

Yarone Zober, longtime chief of staff for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, appeared before the federal grand jury, as does a KDKA-TV employee who dated Mr. Ravenstahl. An attorney for Mr. Ravenstahl said, “I don’t think the government is going to find any criminality.”

Steelers subpoena shows long reach of grand jury over Pittsburgh’s mayor

Even the Pittsburgh Steelers receive a subpoena in connection with the federal probe into city dealings. The team turned over to investigators cancelled checks from the mayor covering the costs of his coveted seats.

City, FBI examine mayoral bodyguard overtime

Various agencies, including the FBI and Pittsburgh’s Office of Municipal Investigations, decided to review hundreds of overtime slips filed by Pittsburgh police officers who guarded the mayor. Acting police Chief Regina McDonald said six instances in which former bodyguard Fred Crawford submitted two time slips for the same day were brought to her attention recently. An attorney for Mr. Crawford questioned the time of the investigations.

Pittsburgh police chief and her top deputy testify before grand jury

Acting Pittsburgh police Chief Regina McDonald and deputy Chief Paul Donaldson testify before the federal grand jury. Chief Donaldson said his appearance “was requested in order to assist them in ‘tying up some loose ends’ and clarify some issues of concern.”

Accusations of favors — May 
Mayor's home
 

Mayor’s renovations questioned; Work on Fineview home linked to city contractor

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s home in 2012 underwent renovations performed by a company whose president also runs a firm that does extensive work for the city Department of Public Works.

Ravenstahl attorney: Contractor documents for home renovation given to federal prosecutors

The attorney representing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl acknowledges that federal investigators have obtained documents tracing a contractor’s renovation to his client’s Fineview home. Charlers Porter Jr. said, “Rumors of work being done for free are not true.”

Investigation into mayor’s office keeps evolving

They hauled boxes out of Pittsburgh police headquarters, summoned mayoral bodyguards and a secretary before a grand jury, pored over city parking variances and gathered paperwork on private renovation work at the mayor’s house. A former police chief has been indicted and the mayor has virtually disappeared from public view. So just what are federal investigators up to?

Ravenstahl’s ex-wife declines to meet with federal investigators

Federal agents asked to speak to Erin Lynn Feith, the ex-wife of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, and she declined, according to her attorney. Agents’ attempts to reach her offer another, rare glimpse into the expanding efforts of investigators.

Consultant: Report nearly done on police outside employment

A former district attorney hired to examine the Pittsburgh police bureau’s policies on officers’ outside employment said he was nearly done with his report. That turned out to be a red herring as the report was released six months later.

Mayor’s former bodyguard appears before federal grand jury

Former mayoral bodyguard Fred Crawford, who earlier in the year told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the mayor and public safety director knew of the off-the-books accounts and encouraged their use, appears before the federal grand jury. Mr. Crawford’s attorney said the testimony focused on the mayor and on overtime abuse.

Parking lot leases draw FBI attention

Federal investigators asked questions about Urban Redevelopment Authority parking lot leasese that were issued through a controversial process to a firm run by a supporter of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. One person told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the FBI asked questions about the leases as early as 2008.

Gigliotti figures in federal investigation of Pittsburgh’s city administration

A Banksville-based parking operator has begun to emerge as a central figure in some aspects of the federal investigation. Robert Gigliotti’s first glimpses into the city’s inner workings came as a child, when his father worked alongside Nate Harper and an assistant chief as members of the police bureau’s motorcycle units. Over the years, he grew to become a strong supporter of the mayor and to build a parking enterprise that stretched across the area.

Former Ravenstahl friend, former Stadium Authority board member testify before grand jury

A federal grand jury hearing testimony in a probe into city dealings receives visits from a former Stadium Authority board member and a woman who had a social relationship with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Prosecutors maintain their customary silence.

Questionable travel and a widening probe — April 
Sgt. Dom Sciulli
 

Questions arise over mayor’s travel expenses

When Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl traveled to Chicago in December 2012 to speak at a forum at the University of Illinois, he took along government affairs manager Paul McKrell for a trip that would also include another, purely political leg. When it came time to book flights and hotel rooms, the question arose: How should this be paid?

Pittsburgh City Council establishes oversight of police funds

Pittsburgh City Council gives preliminary approval to legislation that codifies the fee the city collects every time an off-duty officer works. The legislation also creates a trust aimed at giving the city more oversight of the money collection.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s city hall staff arranged political travel

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s city hall secretary was involved in arranging travel that was paid for by his political committee, according to receipts his campaign provided to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Other elected officials said they keep their campaign offices more clearly separated from their public offices.

Pittsburgh Mayor Ravenstahl takes backseat, leaves driving to others

As pressure surrounding the mayor continues to rise, his absences become more noticeable and department heads increasingly at the helm.

Mayor’s secretary, bodyguards face federal grand jury

A federal probe into city dealings reaches the mayor’s office when his secretary and two current bodyguards are called to appear before the grand jury. Their appearances indicate that the range of a federal probe into city affairs seems to be growing in scope.

Federal inquiry widens as grand jury receives more files

After weeks of no noticeable activity, a months-long probe into Pittsburgh police affairs broadened as officials confirmed that documents concerning parking variances were subpoenaed by a grand jury and turned over to prosecutors. A supporter of the mayor, Robert Gigliotti, received more variances than most other valet parking business owners in the city.

Former police chief indicted — late March
Harper, right, with attorney
 

Nate Harper indicted

Former police Chief Nate Harper is indicted on four counts of failure to file income taxes and one count of conspiracy after federal investigators said he and others in the bureau swiped checks, which he used to eat at restaurants and to buy an appliance and movies from a store that sells porn. In a rare move, Mr. Harper’s attorneys announce immediately that he plans to plead guilty and found the “lure” of the off-the-books account “irresistible.”

FBI first interviewed Nate Harper in 2011

Disclosures filed in U.S. District Court after the indictment show federal agents began their communication with the former police chief in 2011, ceased for 18 months and then began a flurry of interviews.

Harper’s side business involved more city employees

A side company formed by the former police chief and his subordinates got its first business working at the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis and included more city employees than first realized.

Law Department memo supports fee for using off-duty police

In response to issues brought up by the Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh's legal department says a fee for the private use of off-duty police was properly implemented, but observers say problems remain. The department also recommended that rules governing a police narcotics forfeiture fund should be relaxed to align with federal standards.

City controller Michael Lamb conducting broad audit of police bureau

Pittsburgh's controller -- at the time, a mayoral candidate who had been criticized because police accounting went awry on his watch -- quietly launched a broad performance audit of the bureau.

Growing problems in police bureau — March
U.S. Attorney David Hickton
 

Pittsburgh police finance chief claims Harper told her to divert fund

The attorney representing Sandy Ganster, the head of police bureau’s personnel and finance office, tells the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Nate Harper told her to divert the funds into off-the-books accounts. Mr. Harper’s camp remains silent.

Officer’s January memo alerted police brass to fund diversion

In a memo obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Officer Christie Gasiorowski raises concerns that $31,000 in checks were taken from the bureau from the highest and second-highest ranking employees in the bureau’s personnel and finance office. Officer Gasiorowski suggests that Regina McDonald -- who became acting chief after Mr. Harper’s resignation -- knew about one off-the-books account as early as 2009.

Police commander with second full-time job is subject of inquiry

A Pittsburgh city councilwoman confirms that Cmdr. Eric Holmes -- who formed a company with the former police chief -- is under internal investigation for holding a second full-time job as an interim head for a college police department. That investigation remained open nearly a year later.

Some businesses OK with fee for off-duty officers; Charge for legal fees, wear and tear hasn’t been put into law

A fee that the city of Pittsburgh collected each time an officer worked off-duty -- and that flowed through the office where investigators say the diversion occurred -- had not been written into law. Still, some businesses say they are OK with paying it.

Pittsburgh police misuse of drug fund cited

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reveals that a police bureau fund meant to be used for narcotics investigations was tapped to buy Gatorade during the G-20 Summit, training for the former police chief and another involved in his side business and tolls and a car wash for the bureau spokeswoman, among other expenses. The commander who oversaw the unit said she warned the acting chief she thought the spending was improper.

Pittsburgh police official thought use of drug fund for Gatorade, travel was proper

Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant, who signed off on many of the expenses tied to the narcotics fund in questioned, said she thought the account could be tapped for wider law enforcement purchases, although a portion of the city code more closely restricted then. “I watch carefully anything dealing with money because I don’t want nobody saying that I misused something, took something, did anything,” she said.

City police purchase of uniforms questioned; Piecemeal approach avoided existing contract but may have cost more, officials claim

Questions about Pittsburgh Bureau of Police financial procedures led some city officials to renew concerns raised in 2012 about the purchase for more than $60,000 of uniforms from a Kentucky company with no city contract, despite the existence of a competitively bid pack with a local firm. The former police chief previously said that Tammy Davis, who created a side business with him and who has been placed on administrative leave, was integral to the selection of a vendor.

Changes proposed for city’s off-duty details

Public Safety Director Michael Huss proposed changes in how the city collects and manages money that businesses pay when hiring off-duty officers, paramedics and firefighters. The plan would remove some financial control from the bureaus and give the city more oversight.

The mayor is out — March 
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl
 

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announces he won’t seek re-election

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election, 11 days after he formally announced his run. The mayor said the FBI investigation and “nasty and vicious” allegations made him rethink running again.

Mayor’s bodyguards defend debit card use

The two Pittsburgh police sergeants tasked with guarding Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said that they billed only for time worked and didn't misuse debit cards tied to a controversial credit union account. The two men until this story stood by silently as their work hours and -- in the case of one sergeant -- expenses were scrutinized.

FBI returns to police bureau; mayor’s office releases some bodyguard receipts

At least one FBI agent returned to the police bureau’s personnel and finance office on the same day that the mayor’s office released documents pertaining to debit cards held by two mayoral bodyguards and connected to accounts maintained at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union.

New directions for the Pittsburgh police bureau

When Nate Harper became chief, morale among the ranks surged. But over time, his colleagues came to view him as a naive officer who was perhaps a little too nice.

Acting police chief disbands unit that previously reported directly to the chief

When Nate Harper became chief he created a CTIPS, a group of officers meant to serve as a troubleshooting squad for the chief but who some criticized as performing a light workload because they were friends with the chief. Acting police Chief Regina McDonald disbanded the unit shortly after she made remarks that no unit should report directly to the chief to maintain the chain of command.

Myriad attributes sought in new police chief

Local community activists and leaders meet to discuss the traits they’d like to see in a new police chief. No. 1 on the list: “unquestioned integrity.”

What did the mayor know? — late February 
Mayoral bodyguard Fred Crawford
Fred Crawford
  

Ex-bodyguard: Mayor knew of off-the-books accounts

Former mayoral bodyguard Fred Crawford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he believes Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Public Safety Director Michael Huss knew of the off-the-books accounts. Mr. Crawford claimed both accounts at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union were created to help avoid media scrutiny about certain expenditures. Both Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Huss strongly denied his statements.

Acting Pittsburgh police chief says restoring faith in bureau her main priority

On her first day in her new position, acting Pittsburgh police Chief Regina McDonald placed three employees on paid administrative leave pending the end of the federal investigation. Her appointment to the temporary position shocked the police union, which pointed out that Chief McDonald oversaw one of the offices from which the FBI seized records.

Acting police chief takes more action; Ravenstahl defends his reputation

Chief McDonald added a layer of oversight for the personnel and finance office; meanwhile, the mayor said documents in the hands of federal investigators showed no improper spending by his security team.

A Recap: The Investigation into the Pittsburgh Police Bureau -- Because even we admit it’s easy to get lost by this point, a quick recap into how events unfolded.

FBI speaks to Pittsburgh police worker, whose reps claim she is being unfairly targeted

The federal investigation into the Pittsburgh police bureau continues to have ripple effects, with the FBI interviewing another employee and a federal court judge commenting on the former chief's recent notoriety.

Pittsburgh Council considers plan to transfer police funds

Concerned about allegations about misappropriation in the bureau, City Council members seek to have the city -- and not police bureau workers -- oversee the flow of checks paying for officers who off-duty at private locations. At least one check that was diverted from the bureau to off-the-books accounts was meant to pay for off-duty officers, the Post-Gazette has revealed.

Pittsburgh officials keep details of search for new police chief under wraps

Pittsburgh officials remain mum on their attempts to find someone to fill the vacancy for police chief. Outside observers said the controversy surrounding the bureau will only make that task harder.

Missing money and hidden accounts — mid-February 
FBI agents remove documents
FBI agents
 

FBI seizure of Pittsburgh police files linked to use of bureau funds

FBI agents remove boxes of documents from the police bureau’s personnel and finance and special events offices. Deputy police Chief Paul Donaldson said he believed the seizure was linked to allegations that money had been misappropriated within the police bureau.

Ravenstahl standing by chief, officers

Some are calling the current state of affairs in the Pittsburgh police bureau is a disgrace, but Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he continues to stand by police Chief Nate Harper and the 900-member bureau.

FBI removes Pittsburgh police credit union files

FBI agents remove documents from the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union, indicating a widening of their probe into affairs at the Pittsburgh police bureau.

Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper’s police credit union account questioned

News broke that federal investigators have also been seizing documents from an account said to be set up by the police chief’s office at the independent Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union. City officials said they could not explain the account’s existence.

Money trail leads from bureau to Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union

Giant Eagle expenses, airline fees, hotel rooms and restaurant bills in numerous cities were paid for out of at least two accounts maintained through Pittsburgh police headquarters. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette revealed that at least one check meant for the city was deposited into an account at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union. The check was one of many used to pay for off-duty officers working at private locations.

Former DA hired to review Pittsburgh police policies

The city hired former Washington County district attorney Steven Toprani to review Pittsburgh police policies governing officers’ outside work in light of revelations the chief formed a business with his subordinates. That results of that review had not been released as of the end of 2013.

Investigators tracking multiple accounts

The mystery surrounding credit union funds linked to the Pittsburgh police chief's office deepened with the mayor revealing there could be five or more such accounts, the FBI starting to contact merchants and the deputy police chief saying a credit card was issued in his name without his knowledge.

Nate Harper out as police chief

After a two-hour meeting with federal investigators, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl recanted his support for Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper and asked him to resign. (Timeline: Nate Harper’s career as police chief)

Pittsburgh police office’s accounting gaps catch eye of FBI investigators

Each year, millions of dollars flow from private companies to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to pay officers who work private security details arranged through the bureau’s Special Events Office. But scour the city’s budget and annual financial report and you won’t find a line item with the $7 million or so in payments, nor a record of the nearly $800, 000 in city surcharges to businesses that employ police officers through the Special Events Office.

Secret side jobs and tales of bribes — January
 
Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richard, Cmdr. Eric Holmes, Chief Nate Harper
Holmes, center; Harper, right
 

Pittsburgh police chief denies meeting with company, taking bribes

Speculation about who might be the third person in a conspiracy to rig a bid for a police radio contract rises as two charged in the scheme appear before a federal grand jury. Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper said he didn’t get any money from an entrepreneur at the helm of the business.

Pittsburgh police chief’s outside business questioned

Pittsburgh leaders said they did not know the police chief had created a side business, Diverse Public Safety Consultants, with several of his subordinates. Two of the people Nate Harper began the business with were later put on leave pending the end of a federal investigation into misappropriation.

Pittsburgh sergeant held second full-time job

In 2007, Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper apparently approved allowing Eric Holmes -- the sergeant whom he would later promote and go into private business with -- to work a second full-time job as interim head of Slippery Rock University's police force.

Police chief’s second company not illegal, DA finds

Pittsburgh police Chief Nathan E. Harper did nothing illegal in 2012 by joining with three Pittsburgh police officers to organize a public safety consulting corporation, the Allegheny County district attorney found. But a wide-ranging review remained underway by the city’s Law Department.

 


First Published January 14, 2014 11:53 AM

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