Harper's guilt: The ex-chief is the latest to breach the public's trust

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Indictments and convictions of public officials are not so much shocking these days as disappointing. And Pennsylvanians have seen their share of powerful and influential public servants break the law in recent years.

Legislative staff members. Legislative leaders. Even a state Supreme Court justice.

How wasteful. How tragic.

Although all of them should have known better, a special corner of derision is reserved for those criminals who once were symbols of justice -- such as convicted and suspended Justice Joan Orie Melvin -- or law enforcement -- former Pittsburgh police chief Nate Harper.

The former head of the city's force was indicted Friday on charges of conspiracy and failure to file tax returns. One of his attorneys, Robert Del Greco Jr., said the evidence against the ex-chief was "unambiguous" and he will likely plead guilty to all five counts.

One count of conspiracy pertains to Mr. Harper's having opened with others an account at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union, which became an unauthorized depository for funds that should have gone to the city. In common parlance, that's a slush fund. The other four counts are due to his failure to file income tax returns for four years in which he earned a total of $475,000.

For those crimes, he could serve nine years in prison and pay fines up to $650,000.

Tax cheats, conspirators and corrupt public officials always pay a price upon conviction. But the penalties never compensate the public for the trust that is lost and the faith that is broken when people we put on a civic pedestal come crashing down as common thieves who were out to scam the system and cheat the law.

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