Former Pittsburgh police chief Nate Harper was not sentenced to 18 months in prison because he’s a menace to society. He was given that penalty, appropriately and justifiably, for failing to file tax returns for four years, diverting $70,629 in public funds to an unauthorized account and then spending $31,987 of it on himself.
That’s criminal behavior, whether done by a private citizen known to a relative few or, in this case, by a prominent public official in a position of tremendous power and authority.
It is easy to understand the pleas of Harper’s friends and family who came forward as character witnesses before U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon. They were seeking a measure of mercy that might have spared him any time behind bars and left his penalty at only probation or house arrest.
But Judge Bissoon was unmoved and she sentenced the 36-year police veteran to prison and $31,987 in restitution. “No amount of kind words can erase the seriousness of his crimes or the resulting breach of trust,” she said in court. And she is right.
A lesser sentence would have signaled to all of Western Pennsylvania that a public official could escape prison time if he had a sufficiently compelling narrative. With the people’s interest in mind, however, Judge Bissoon told a different story: If you commit the crime, you do the time.