FBI seizure of Pittsburgh police files linked to probe into use of funds
February 13, 2013 5:00 AM
FBI agents on Tuesday leave Pittsburgh police headquarters on the North Side with cases of documents.
By Jonathan D. Silver and Liz Navratil / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh police Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said he believes the documents that were seized Tuesday from police headquarters by FBI agents are part of an investigation into allegations that funds were being misappropriated internally.
"We know at this time that there have been a number of allegations, accusations, innuendos," Chief Donaldson said Tuesday night.
"The only way we're going to resolve these issues is to have an outside agency review these allegations and see if there is any misconduct or wrongdoing within the bureau, and until then I would encourage people to be patient and not make any conclusion until the investigation is complete."
City Solicitor Daniel Regan said the visit by the FBI to the police bureau's headquarters on the North Side was prearranged through a subpoena served Monday. He linked the visit to what he described as an ongoing grand jury investigation but did not provide any details.
Chief Donaldson said the federal inquiry encompassed both the special events office, which handles secondary employment -- moonlighting by police officers -- and the bureau's personnel and finance office.
Last year, the city earned more than $792,000 in fees charged to private employers who hired officers to moonlight, according to documents obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. How that money was handled internally may be the subject of the FBI's probe as well as a parallel investigation by the city controller's office.
"What led the actions today or drove the actions today are the opinions or accusations made internally that there is a misappropriation of funds within the secondary employment office, to be specific, and what this is going to be is an accounting of the funds that are there," Chief Donaldson said.
"After the funds are collected by the secondary employment office, they are then channeled through the personnel and finance office. They are deposited in city accounts."
The FBI, according to the deputy chief, is simply following the money.
"I'm sure they're looking at the collection of the monies and where the monies are deposited, located, etc.," he said. "They're following the path of the money from the beginning to the end."
The FBI declined comment as did the U.S. Attorney's office. Police Chief Nate Harper, through a spokeswoman, also declined comment.
Following discussions Monday and Tuesday, Mr. Regan said, city and federal officials agreed to meet at police headquarters to locate and remove the records. He said police bureau personnel helped to find the records that the FBI agents wanted.
Because the subpoena was related to a grand jury investigation, Mr. Regan said, he did not believe it would be appropriate to discuss the contents, including the types of records the authorities were seeking.
Mr. Regan said he did not know who or what the federal grand jury is investigating or know which offices at police headquarters housed the records that the agents wanted.
A federal grand jury has been investigating the way a city contract to install and service equipment in police vehicles was awarded in 2007 to Alpha Outfitters, a company prosecutors say was formed by Arthur Bedway, a friend of Chief Harper.
Mr. Bedway, who has been indicted, has pleaded not guilty, and the court docket indicates discussions about a possible plea deal.
A former city systems analyst, Christine Kebr, who worked in the police bureau's fleet services division has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy for accepting $6,000 in bribes connected to the awarding of the contract.
Chief Harper said he was not involved in the meetings to set up the company and accepted no money from Mr. Bedway.
"You couldn't tell from the subpoena" which offices at headquarters housed the records, and that's one reason that city officials offered their cooperation, Mr. Regan said.
Mr. Regan said the subpoena sought records only at the one location -- police headquarters.
He said no other subpoenas related to the grand jury investigation are pending with the city.
Among the documents agents requested were some focused on training and travel.
Chief Donaldson said he did not think the agents went inside Chief Harper's office.
The deputy chief said he did not think there was anything illegal going on inside the police bureau, but he thought the bureau's reputation could benefit from having an outside agency take a look.
Chief Donaldson said he hopes this investigation will be "the beginning of the end -- an outside agency comes in and looks at our workings."
"Obviously, the bureau does not want to be the focus of the investigation," he said, "but I think the bureau is open to the investigation."
The seizure comes days after city Controller Michael Lamb announced an audit of the special events office. Mr. Lamb said his auditors planned to show up at police headquarters this morning, and he added that he learned of the FBI's visit from news media.
"My understanding is at least some of the records we want to audit are no longer in possession of the police bureau," said Mr. Lamb, who is running for mayor. "We will be in touch with the federal authorities to find out what was subpoenaed and what was seized and then we'll have to make a determination with them about how to proceed and if we should proceed."
Off-duty officers are in demand to work security at bars, banks, road construction sites, sports events and other functions.
Years ago, bureau employees managed their own side jobs. Since 2007, the bureau has administered the jobs, billing private entities for officers' time and paying the officers time-and-a-half -- a little more than $40 an hour -- and adding a $3.85-an-hour fee that the bureau keeps to cover expenses.
"And that's one of the questions we have: How is that fee accounted for?" Mr. Lamb said.
One veteran police supervisor who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the bureau lamented the current state of affairs.
"It's horrible. It's embarrassing. Just the look of stuff, it's heartbreaking," he said. "This is affecting a lot of us, whatever's true -- if it's true -- because it's giving all of us a black eye, and people deserve better than this."
Chief Donaldson said he was sympathetic to such sentiments from his officers and said he wanted to let the public know that the bureau can still perform its mission.
"Please reassure the public this does not impact our ability to protect the life and property of the citizens of Pittsburgh," he said.
The deputy chief said he thought the police bureau's battered reputation could benefit from the scrutiny of an outside agency.
"I think that that's the only way we're going to be able to put this behind us is to have someone come in," he said.
In the last six weeks the police bureau has been under intense scrutiny from various angles, ranging from how it handles its finances to how it governs outside employment to how it responds to 911 calls.