Art Bedway, center of Pittsburgh bribe probe, to plead guilty

His alleged bribes to win contract have precipitated the fall of several officials

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The man whose alleged bribes seemed to spur a wide-ranging probe of city dealings is set to plead guilty today.

Art Bedway, 63, of Robinson, is charged with conspiracy, bribery and five counts of mail fraud, accused of rigging a contract to install radios and computers in police cars.

Depending on what Mr. Bedway admits to, he could face prison or probation. The specifics of his plea also could provide some hint as to where the overall probe is heading, as Mr. Bedway will have to confirm a prosecutor's summary of the factual basis for convicting him.

Some prosecutors read judges a "very truncated factual basis that just covers the basic elements" of the crime, said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor who is now a professor of law at Saint Vincent College. "Some go into very elaborate detail" about the crime and co-conspirators.

Mr. Bedway, who chaired the Carnegie firm Victory Security, also controlled the Esplen firm Alpha Outfitters. The latter company got nearly $337,000 in payments from the city for installing and maintaining police radios and computers.

Former city systems analyst Christine Kebr, 56, of Castle Shannon, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and admitted to taking $6,000 in return for steering the contract to the firm.

Prosecutors have said in documents and court appearances that a "third individual" was with Mr. Bedway and Ms. Kebr at two meetings in 2006. Former city police chief Nate Harper has said he was not involved with the contract and didn't get money from Mr. Bedway, his former friend.

Prosecutors don't have to name other conspirators when one pleads.

"If the guy is going to be testifying [against others], hopefully by this point [prosecutors] have his testimony in front of a grand jury," and so they don't need him to admit to much at the plea hearing, Mr. Antkowiak said.

Mr. Bedway appeared in front of a grand jury in January.

The hearing may signal the kind of sentence Mr. Bedway faces. Federal sentences are usually based on the crime, the defendant's criminal history and the amount of damage done -- in this case, whether the city lost money on the Alpha Outfitters contract.

"There are so many ways to calculate loss that you could probably do it a multitude of different ways and get a different loss every way," said defense attorney Michael DeRiso.

Attorney Marty Dietz, who represents Mr. Bedway, may have negotiated an amount of loss, or may try to fight that out in court, Mr. DeRiso said.

Since Mr. Bedway's November indictment, some dominoes have fallen and others seem to totter.

Mr. Harper has been charged with conspiracy, accused of diverting some $30,000 in public funds for personal uses. He has pleaded not guilty, but his attorneys have said he will soon change his plea.

Prosecutors have not named his co-conspirators.

Four city police employees remain on administrative leave in relation to the probe.

A grand jury has heard testimony from two police sergeants who have served on Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's security detail, one former bodyguard and the secretary who handled his travel and scheduling. Last week, former Pittsburgh Stadium Authority chairwoman Debbie Lestitian and mayoral acquaintance Ashley Barna came before the panel.

"When you have an instance of bribery that they can absolutely prove," Mr. Antkowiak said, "the instinct of most government agents is that this is not an aberrant situation."

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