Communication between federal agents and former Pittsburgh police chief Nate Harper began in 2011, ceased for 18 months, and then intensified into a flurry of interviews in the weeks leading up to his Friday indictment, according to disclosures filed in U.S. District Court late Friday.
U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton's staff declined Monday to explain the timeline presented in the disclosures, other than to confirm that interviews with Mr. Harper occurred on the dates listed. Mr. Harper's attorneys could not be reached for comment Monday.
"They sure got a lot of interviews with him," said Alexander H. Lindsay Jr., a defense attorney who is a former federal prosecutor. He said the timeline suggests that the former chief may have been considered a witness up to a certain time, or may have been an unusually cooperative suspect.
Mr. Harper was indicted on one count of conspiracy involving the use of public funds for personal use, and accused of directing the diversion of some $70,000 into an unauthorized account, from which he then spent $31,986 on personal expenses. He is also charged with failing to file tax returns from 2008 through 2011.
The personal expenditures listed in the indictment -- which are a sample, according to prosecutors -- run from March 2010 through the end of 2012. The first public sign of the investigation was a Feb. 12 FBI visit to police headquarters, at which time agents left with boxes of documents.
At Mr. Harper's Friday arraignment, prosecutors gave his attorneys a required disclosure of all statements the defendant has made to investigators.
The first item listed in the disclosure is a "supplemental FBI report of interview" dated May 13, 2011.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Cessar would not discuss the subject of that interview.
It came at a time when federal prosecutors were interested in Art Bedway, a Robinson man who was a friend of Mr. Harper. At the March 2011 plea hearing of an Arizona man on fraud charges, prosecutors called Mr. Bedway "a confederate" of the defendant.
The next activity listed on the disclosure, 18 months later, are a "recording" dated Nov. 14, 2012, and an "FBI report of interview" dated Nov. 18.
Mr. Bedway was indicted on Nov. 16, 2012, charged with conspiracy, bribery and mail fraud in relation to a contract the city awarded to a company called Alpha Outfitters, which he controlled, according to prosecutors. Mr. Bedway has pleaded not guilty.
Mr. Bedway's attorney, Marty Dietz, said he did not know whether the conversations agents had with Mr. Harper could have been related to the Alpha Outfitters investigation. The FBI doesn't usually record interrogations of suspects, according to David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and author of the recent book "Failed Evidence," which dealt extensively with how law enforcement interviews are documented.
The IRS interviewed Mr. Harper on Dec. 13, according to the disclosures.
According to the disclosures, the FBI then interviewed Mr. Harper on Feb. 12 -- the same day agents visited police headquarters.
On Feb. 20, the FBI interviewed Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, asking him about expenditures made on debit cards attached to the unauthorized account, according to the mayor, who that day asked for, and received, Mr. Harper's resignation.
This month, the FBI interviewed Mr. Harper twice March 6, and March 7 and 13, according to the disclosure.
"These are likely to have been consensual interviews in which [former] Chief Harper was providing the FBI with his side of the story in the hope that it would persuade them not to bring federal charges," said Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney now in private practice who is not involved in the case.
Mr. Harper's attorney, Robert Del Greco, who has said his client will plead guilty, did not rule out possible cooperation by Mr. Harper in this or other investigations. "If subpoenaed for a future matter and asked to testify truthfully, I think he would have no choice but to do that."
U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon has scheduled a status conference on the Harper case for April 18.neigh_city
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord. Liz Navratil and Jonathan D. Silver contributed.