The unauthorized purchase of 13 chain saws led to termination proceedings and criminal charges against a Pittsburgh City Council staffer Thursday, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's call for an internal investigation and questions about whether the city should have tighter controls on spending.
Councilman Bruce Kraus said he intended to fire Matt Hogue, his constituent services manager for about two years, after learning from the controller's office that Mr. Hogue purchased 13 chain saws valued at $10,565 at city expense, stored them at his Elliott home and reported them stolen last month.
Pittsburgh police announced Thursday night that they were charging Mr. Hogue, 27, with theft and filing a false police report. He was in the Allegheny County Jail late Thursday night awaiting arraignment, Major Crimes Lt. Kevin Kraus said in a news release.
Mr. Kraus said he did not authorize purchase of the chain saws and was stunned when Controller Michael Lamb gave him the news Wednesday.
Reached by phone Thursday, Mr. Hogue declined comment.
Mr. Ravenstahl said the city Office of Municipal Investigations will be asked to review the matter.
The chain saws were purchased from Jefferson Hills Lawn Equipment Inc., which regularly provides equipment to the city public works department. Mr. Lamb said his office began questioning the bill before Mr. Hogue reported the chain saws stolen April 17.
Mr. Lamb said his office paid the bill April 26 after the company indicated it couldn't provide additional equipment to the public works department, which is entering its busy summer season, if the bill wasn't paid. Pat Prosser, one of the company owners, confirmed Mr. Lamb's account.
"We're a small business," he said. "We can't afford to let that much ride."
Mr. Prosser said Mr. Hogue orally provided a purchase order number. He said the store agreed to accept the order because it had done business with Mr. Hogue in the past.
Public works director Rob Kaczorowski and other public works officials signed an invoice authorizing payment for the chain saws. Mr. Ravenstahl said they did so because they were told the purchase was being funded with Mr. Kraus' discretionary Neighborhood Needs money.
The Neighborhood Needs program was established with bond money in the 1990s to fund small projects. In all, about $9 million was divided among the nine council offices.
Mr. Lamb estimated that the nine council offices collectively still have about $400,000 in Neighborhood Needs money. He said the fact that so much remains "is disturbing."
According to a police report, Mr. Hogue reported the theft of "seven or eight" chain saws on April 17. Mr. Hogue told police that the items, stored at his home, were missing when he returned from a run.
Joe Smydo: email@example.com or 412-263-1548.