Ravenstahl: Police Chief Harper has 'full confidence' as contract inquiry continues

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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said today there was little the city could have done to prevent a computer information systems employee from taking bribes to award a contract to a firm connected to a former friend of police Chief Nate Harper.

The mayor said he had no reason to believe the chief had done anything wrong.

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 employee, Christine Ann Kebr, 55, of Castle Shannon, pleaded guilty to conspiracy last month.

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.

"We put trust in our employees and trust them to do the right thing," Mr. Ravenstahl said today. "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."

Mr. Bedway has pleaded not guilty to related charges.

Mr. Bedway was a longtime friend of Chief Harper, and in September 2011 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote of their ties. Another firm created by Mr. Bedway, Carnegie-based Victory Security, for a time employed Chief Harper's wife as a consultant.

In that Post-Gazette story, Chief Harper said his wife did legitimate work for Victory security and quit at an unspecified time to put an end to rumors. He said then that he had no role in the radio contract and was no longer friendly with Mr. Bedway.

Chief Harper had been at the helm for only a short time in 2006 when the bureau began the police radio contract bidding process. He has said he was not involved in the selection of Alpha Outfitters, a firm prosecutors have said was created by Mr. Bedway, although its official owner was a woman in his employ.

Prosecutors said last month that Ms. Kebr, Mr. Bedway and an unidentified third partner worked together to ensure that Alpha Outfitters got the contract.

"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."

He said he had very little knowledge of the Alpha Outfitters contract.

"Obviously, the way it was awarded was improper," he said.

Asked whether Chief Harper was a subject of any investigation, he said: "I don't know much more than anybody else, to be honest with you. I've talked to the chief. Certainly he has professed to me that he's done nothing wrong. And at this point he has my full confidence. 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.

"I'm not sure what interaction the chief has had with anybody," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "Nobody in my administration has been asked to appear or participate in any way."

On Thursday Chief Harper's spokeswoman, Diane Richard, said: "The chief has said that he doesn't know what [about any investigation] at this point."

He has been off work attending to a family matter and unavailable for interviews.

Mr. Bedway's attorney, Martin Dietz, declined comment yesterday. 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, 412-263-1542 and on Twitter: @richelord.


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