Pittsburgh city officials ask for patience as FBI police probe continues

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City officials on Friday were puzzled by the timing of claims from the police bureau's finance manager that she was following orders by the former chief to divert money into an unauthorized account and continued their calls for greater financial oversight at the bureau.

Controller Michael Lamb, a Democratic candidate for mayor, mused about the timing compared to his office's notification to the police bureau Feb. 8 that he intended to audit the special events office, which handles millions of dollars each year in fees collected to pay for officers' moonlighting.

"I'm not saying that's what caused her to go to [Public Safety Director Michael] Huss," Mr. Lamb said. "I just found it interesting that we were looking at this question and then she went to Huss."

The attorney representing personnel and finance manager Sandra J. Ganster first told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that his client followed former Chief Nate Harper's orders in diverting checks received by the special events office into an unauthorized account at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union.

He called his client a whistle-blower and said she notified Mr. Huss about the account Feb. 9. He said the tipping point came for her when she became convinced that the account had been used to pay for Commander Eric Holmes' promotion party while previous expenditures had been more clearly police-related -- G-20 shields and standup ashtrays, for example.

Mr. Lamb said his office planned to do an entrance conference with the special events office -- the first step in the auditing process -- four days after Ms. Ganster's attorney said she notified the public safety director of the account. The FBI seized documents from the bureau's North Side headquarters the day before that entrance conference was scheduled.

"At least we have a witness who established that funds were directed to a non-city account," Mr. Lamb said. "That's a theft, and I don't think there's anything else you can characterize it as, even if the money was used to buy equipment and all that."

Still, he said, "She should have reported it sooner, but it's obviously a troublesome situation."

Asked how officials at the police bureau could have missed the diversion for so many years, Mr. Lamb said it wasn't easily detectable "as long as everyone's on the same page."

Councilman Bill Peduto, another Democratic candidate for mayor, reiterated the need for greater financial control but said he thought it would be premature to suggest changes before the investigation is completed.

"It would be responsible to get the facts on this case before making structural changes to our revenue management systems," Mr. Peduto said. "It's obvious that greater accountability and transparency is needed, but at the same time we should use this as an opportunity to see how and why it was broken down."

Council President Darlene Harris, another Democratic candidate for mayor, said she'd like to reserve judgment until learning more about the investigation. "I don't know enough about what is happening," she said.

Mr. Lamb said he believes that a group separate from the police bureau should handle the scheduling and finances stemming from secondary employment, or moonlighting.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, the union representing Pittsburgh police officers, suggested to Mr. Lamb that the controller's office might handle that responsibility. Mr. Lamb said, "I don't know that we're the right people to do it."

This story was modified to clarify remarks by Michael Lamb regarding the detection of financial issues within the police bureau.

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.


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