Former city worker gets probation for bribery

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Until Tuesday, accusations that former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper was involved in a bid-rigging scheme were a matter of two fingers pointing at each other.

Mr. Harper's old friend said the chief was the mastermind. The chief, first personally and later through attorneys, said he wasn't even involved.

Weighing in Tuesday against Mr. Harper was former city systems analyst Christine Kebr, saying at her own sentencing that Mr. Harper told her to help Robinson entrepreneur Art Bedway win a bid to install and maintain radios and computers in police cruisers.

Attorneys for Christine Kebr, Nate Harper talk to media

Christine Kebr, who took bribes when she worked for the city of Pittsburgh but then helped federal investigators to crack a bid-rigging case, was sentenced to three years probation with six months home detention today. (Video by Nate Guidry; 2/11/20

"I surely regret complying with Nate Harper's direction" to work with Bedway, Kebr told U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon, who sentenced her to three years' probation for conspiracy.

Kebr, 57, of Castle Shannon said she took two payments, totaling $6,000, from Bedway because her brother was having financial problems. "I regret that, too," she said, adding that her only consolation was that the contract the city reached with Alpha Outfitters resulted in better equipment for the police.

Kebr's attorney, Gary Gerson, portrayed her as a dedicated city employee who respected the chain of command in helping Bedway-controlled Alpha Outfitters to get a contract on which the city ultimately paid $327,729.

"She was used and taken advantage of by two very sophisticated men," said Mr. Gerson, calling her "a lamb among wolves."

Mr. Harper is to be sentenced Feb. 25 on unrelated charges and has never been charged in relation to the Alpha Outfitters contract.

The sentencing appears to end one chapter in the federal probe of the city, though Mr. Gerson said charges against Mr. Harper in relation to Alpha Outfitters didn't seem to be out of the question.

One of Mr. Harper's attorneys, Robert Del Greco, strongly disagreed Tuesday, saying he took the lack of an indictment as proof of Mr. Harper's claims of innocence.

Kebr, hired by the city in 2001 by the city Information Systems Department, was in charge of technology for the police. She was dissatisfied with the in-car technology, and went to Mr. Harper, according to Mr. Gerson.

"She did not suggest a particular vendor," Mr. Gerson told Judge Bissoon. "It was then-Chief Harper who responded to her, 'I have someone in mind.' That someone was Art Bedway. ... Art Bedway was the chief's man."

Bedway offered to hire Kebr's relatives, but she declined, according to Mr. Gerson. The bribes came after the contract was already in place.

"Why did you take the money?" Judge Bissoon asked.

"At first, I gave it back," said Kebr. "He gave it back to me." So she gave the $3,000 to her brother, doing the same with a later payment in the same amount.

Prosecutors have said that another conspirator got $9,000 from Bedway, and the Robinson man's attorneys have said that was Mr. Harper.

"Chief Harper has his own problems for which he will be sentenced on Feb. 25. He has admitted to those problems," Mr. Del Greco said, adding that to "continue to have to challenge allegations relative to the culpability of two other individuals, frankly, as I said, is wearisome."

Mr. Harper pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit theft from a federally funded program and failure to file tax returns. Federal prosecutors accused him of instructing others to place $70,628 in funds meant for city coffers into unauthorized accounts at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union, then making personal use of $31,986.

Federal sentencing guidelines suggested that Kebr could have faced as much as two years in prison. Assistant U.S. attorney Robert Cessar, though, filed a motion recognizing her cooperation with the investigation, inviting the judge to impose a less severe sentence.

Judge Bissoon ordered Kebr to serve six months of her probation on home detention, and to pay a $6,000 fine, reflecting the bribes she took. Last month the judge sentenced Bedway, 64, to three years of probation and a $30,000 fine for conspiracy, bribery and mail fraud. She promptly permitted him to go to Florida.

Judge Bissoon said the home detention in Kebr's sentence reflected the fact that she was a city employee, and thus violated a public trust that didn't apply to Bedway. She also noted that Kebr lost much already.

The former technologist lost her $60,000 job with the city and is now a prep cook earning just above minimum wage, Mr. Gerson said. "She's lost her reputation in the community," he said. "She is a pariah."

Liz Navratil: Rich Lord: First Published February 11, 2014 11:29 AM

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