Police union chief blasts safety director

Letter also outlines concerns with Chief McDonald

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A letter written by the Pittsburgh police union president this week represented the latest in a series of increasingly tense clashes he has had with the public safety director and could potentially pull the still unscathed mayor into the fray.

Sgt. Michael LaPorte, in a letter dated Wednesday, informed Mayor Bill Peduto that the police union members "are unable to recognize" public safety director Michael Huss as the mayor's representative when discussing city matters.

The sergeant wrote that he felt Mr. Huss has acted in bad faith and questioned whether Mr. Huss and acting police Chief Regina McDonald long knew about corruption within the Pittsburgh police bureau.

Mr. Huss and the acting chief both said some of the sergeant's statements were lies and questioned why the sergeant, if he was concerned, did not act more quickly.

Mr. Peduto, who in the past has also been the target of some of Sgt. LaPorte's criticism, declined to comment on the letter except to say that he referred it to the city law department and that Sgt. LaPorte has a right to express himself.

The sergeant wrote the letter at a time when he is under intense pressure from some union members for signing an agreement with the public safety director that tightened rules on officer moonlighting and rendered "null and void" a section of the collective bargaining agreement.

"He's upset because we worked many months on this agreement," Mr. Huss said. "I believed that what we were working [on] was for the good of the bureau and for the city and now that his people are unhappy with it he wants to back out of it."

Sgt. LaPorte did not comment despite numerous requests Friday.

He signed an agreement with Mr. Huss in November that prohibited officers from receiving cash for moonlighting, barred them from receiving a fee for scheduling other officers' off-duty gigs and tightened other restrictions.

In doing so, the sergeant also signed away a portion of the collective bargaining agreement, saying earlier this week that "they tried to sneak one in here or I misread it."

Moonlighting gigs became especially controversial last year amid an investigation that revealed that former police Chief Nate Harper and others in the bureau worked to move checks meant to pay for officers' off-duty work into off-the-books accounts, which Mr. Harper sometimes tapped for personal expenses.

Sgt. LaPorte in the letter questioned why the previous administration, including Mr. Huss, chose to promote then assistant chief of administration McDonald to acting chief given that she oversaw the special events office, which received the checks meant to pay for officers' off-duty work.

Federal prosecutors have said that the checks were diverted from the bureau's personnel and finance office, which received the checks after the special events office and was supposed to send them to the city.

"The FOP provided documented evidence that then Assistant Chief McDonald had knowledge of the diversion of funds and was making copies of all checks received in the office. To believe that Assistant Chief McDonald, Chief Harper and Mayor [Luke] Ravenstahl had knowledge of this corruption but that knowledge somehow bridged Director Huss is unbelievable," Sgt. LaPorte wrote. "It is more logical that Assistant Chief McDonald was promoted to Chief so as not to expose Director Huss's culpability or at a minimum his failure to act."

He also said some who previously worked in the bureau's secondary employment office have "since been sanctioned by transfer and/or reassignment against their will to maintain their silence."

Chief McDonald said in a statement Friday afternoon: "If Sgt. Mike LaPorte has information that would aid in the ongoing FBI investigation, he should turn it over to the FBI. His letter is full of lies and misinformation. As I have mentioned in the past, I will not dignify his accusations with a response."

Mr. Huss, citing the ongoing federal investigation, would not go into detail about Sgt. LaPorte's comments but said, "Some of those allegations in there are complete lies. I took actions that are appropriate when I learned of things and I stand behind that, and frankly I'm not going to go point by point with him.

"If he knew of corruption in the police department then he should have acted on it," Mr. Huss said. "He's a police officer. If you see something that's wrong, he knows what to do."


Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1438. First Published January 17, 2014 2:38 PM

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