Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said today that three of his police bodyguards had debit cards that accessed a police credit union account now the subject of an FBI investigation, but said the men had no idea the cards were linked to an unauthorized account.
Mr. Ravenstahl also defended his decision to elevate Assistant Chief Regina McDonald to the role of acting chief following Mr. Harper's departure.
Joanna Doven, Mr. Ravenstahl's spokeswoman, said the chief's office gave the cards to Sgt. Dom Sciulli, Sgt. Matthew J. Gauntner and Fred Crawford, who is now retired, and told them they were to be used for city business.
She did not know when they received the cards, which were linked to a Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union account.
The credit union account is the subject of an FBI investigation. Nate Harper was forced to resign as police chief Wednesday after Mr. Ravenstahl had a two-hour meeting with federal investigators.
Mr. Ravenstahl said after a South Side press conference this morning that the men used the cards on trips for travel and hotel on officials trips they took with the mayor.
"Anytime they used these cards they were on trips with me," he said, stressing the expenditures were "legitimate."
He said the men used the cards when they traveled with the mayor to Washington, D.C., and Harrisburg, among other things. The three are not targets of a federal investigation, he said.
Mr. Ravenstahl, in recorded remarks reviewed by a reporter, again stressed he had no knowledge of the unauthorized account.
Chief McDonald, who was in charge of administration for the bureau, oversees the Special Events Office, an office that has been at the center of the federal investigation. Mr. Ravenstahl said he was confident that she was not involved.
"I have no concerns ... I have no reason to believe -- in fact I'm confident -- that in no way was she conflicted or that she did anything wrong," he said. "She has my full support."
He said the search for Mr. Harper's replacement already has begun and that he would prefer an outside candidate.
"I think given the situation, if we were able to find somebody from the outside to come and put a new vision or standpoint on the bureau, that would be my preference," he said.
Mayoral challengers still have questions
Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb, a mayoral challenger, today posed a series of questions to Mr. Ravenstahl regarding the use of the credit union account.
The account was not an authorized city depository but it apparently received funds that were directed to the city.
In a press release, Mr. Lamb said Mr. Ravenstahl's press conference last night at which he announced the Mr. Harper's resignation failed to address the questions swirling around the account.
"I'm asking these questions on behalf of everybody," Mr. Lamb said in a phone interview. "People deserve to know what he knows about it. Where did this money come from? What was it spent on? Before he can put this scandal behind him, he has to be up front about this stuff. What we know right now, and what he said, is that he was aware of an account that was an unauthorized account of the city. ... When did he know about it, and why didn't he tell somebody about it?"
Mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven said it's Mr. Lamb, as the city's "controller and chief accountant," who "has information that he is not sharing with the public or the authorities.
"The fact that these questions are coming from his political campaign makes his disgusting motivations clear," she continued. "The public has a right to know what information he is hiding or holding onto for political purposes. We demand that he turn this information over to the public and to the authorities as is his duty."
Mr. Ravenstahl has declined to detail the questions asked of him Wednesday by investigators with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office, though he said they prompted him to seek the chief's resignation.
Mr. Ravenstahl said he did not want to provide details for fear of jeopardizing the investigation.
"No one's asking him to reveal confidence," Mr. Lamb said. "All we're asking him to do is to be straight up to the people he works for."
In his press release, Mr. Lamb also referenced today's revelation of debit cards in the hands of his bodyguards.
"Why would your security detail need access to a secret bank account if they were conducting official city business?" Mr. Lamb asked in the release. "Who else had access to the account and what did they use it for? How could the use of the secret account to pay for city business be acceptable?
"Have you ever benefited from this account?" Mr. Lamb continued in the release.
A mayoral spokeswoman said Mr. Ravenstahl was at police headquarters and not immediately available to address the questions.
The other Democratic mayoral challenger, city Councilman Bill Peduto said the latest matter reminded him -- and should remind voters in the May 21 Democratic primary -- "to connect the dots" of past events.
Past controversial resignations from Mr. Ravenstahl's administration include his initial operations director, Dennis Regan; former Urban Redevelopment Authority executive director Pat Ford; and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority executive director Michael Kenney.
"We're on a roller coaster ride and it seems like we've been on one for about six years, starting at the very beginning in the public safety scandal that occurred in the mayor's office and then the PWSA and the URA scandals and corruption charges, and now within our own police bureau," Mr. Peduto said.
Moriah Balingit: email@example.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.