Former Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl took his computer home, returned it later
Peduto aides gave device to the FBI
March 19, 2014 2:30 AM
Former Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl
By Moriah Balingit / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
City officials turned over to the FBI a city-owned desktop computer that belonged to former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl after Mayor Bill Peduto's office learned the former mayor took it with him when he left office and held onto it for several days.
The mayor's office initially reported to the FBI that the computer was missing on Jan. 10, four days after Mr. Peduto took office. When it was returned, it was promptly turned over to federal authorities, said the mayor's chief of staff Kevin Acklin.
The FBI declined comment.
Mr. Ravenstahl referred comment to his attorney, Charles Porter, who said the former mayor took the computer because he was concerned the Peduto administration would move in, hide it and then concoct a story about it going missing.
"He didn't trust the administration, so he thought it prudent" to take the computer with him, Mr. Porter said, "so that people couldn't claim any derogatory things about him."
Mr. Porter said he does not believe there is any reason the city should have alerted the FBI because he said the matter does not involve any federal jurisdiction.
Mr. Acklin said the administration decided to contact the FBI because of the continuing federal probe into city business, which last year resulted in the indictment of former police chief Nate Harper. Later, Mr. Ravenstahl's chief of staff, secretary, police bodyguards and two female acquaintances were called before the FBI.
"There is an ongoing federal investigation," Mr. Acklin said. "When we found that city property was missing -- including the mayor's computer -- we felt obligated to contact the lead agency."
The machine was discovered missing when technicians from City Information Systems went to the mayor's suite on Jan. 9 to install a new computer for Mr. Peduto. A monitor, keyboard, mouse and loose wiring remained at the desk. But the computer was nowhere to be found.
A CIS employee called Mr. Ravenstahl and left a message with him inquiring about the computer. The following day, a Peduto administration official called the FBI to report the computer missing.
It's unlikely Mr. Ravenstahl would have been able to access his files on the computer from outside the building, according to an official with the Department of Innovation and Performance, formerly known as City Information Systems. Desktop computers have to be hard-wired to the city's in-house network for users to log in, and most work materials are stored on the network.
The department also prevents former employees from accessing the network as soon as their tenure with the city ends by disabling their login and password.
The week after the computer was reported missing to the FBI, another city employee returned Mr. Ravenstahl's computer to the offices of CIS. It was undamaged and turned over to the FBI.
That same week, a Peduto administration official contacted the FBI a second time to report other items that were missing. Among them was a Waterford crystal trophy commemorating the Steelers' Super Bowl victory in 2006. It was presented to the late Mayor Bob O'Connor in 2006 and was valued at $30,000. A red vase from Wuhan, China, and an antique clock also were reported missing, a city official said.
The administration official also reported to the FBI what the administration said was damage to city property. The official reported that a painting of William Pitt the Younger was found in a closet with a slash through its canvas. The mayor's staff discovered decorative tassels that dangled from the chandeliers -- original fixtures in the early-20th-century building -- had been torn off or fallen off. The tassels were located in a drawer of a desk elsewhere in the office, a city official said.
Mr. Porter, the former mayor's attorney, said in the process of packing up the office, Mr. Ravenstahl took "memorabilia, gifts to him, things of that nature."
Other items that may have been taken "have been or will be returned," he said.
As of Tuesday, Mr. Acklin said nothing had been returned.
The inquiry into the brief disappearance of the computer and the missing items occurs at time when federal investigators are conducting a far-reaching investigation of city business that began in the office of former police chief Harper. Last year, Harper was convicted on charges of conspiracy and tax evasion.
Prosecutors said Harper directed city employees to deposit money paid to the city into outside accounts, which he tapped with a debit card to the tune of $30,000. In late February 2013, Mr. Ravenstahl pressed him into resigning. On March 1, Mr. Ravenstahl dropped his bid for re-election.
Later, Mr. Ravenstahl's secretary, chief of staff, police bodyguards and two female acquaintances were called before a federal grand jury, but no charges resulted.
Following Harper's Feb. 25 sentencing, his attorney Robert Leight said it was Mr. Ravenstahl's idea to set up the outside accounts. Mr. Ravenstahl's attorney denied the charge, saying he had no involvement in opening up the account.
Though federal officials have maintained customary silence about the investigation, U.S. attorney David Hickton said as recently as late February that the probe remains ongoing despite Mr. Ravenstahl's departure from public office.
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