Unfinished business: The public deserves more from Ravenstahl probe
August 21, 2014 12:00 AM
Former Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl
By the Editorial Board
A federal grand jury that took testimony about former mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s official and personal dealings has wrapped up its service without issuing an indictment. This is obviously very good news for Mr. Ravenstahl, who decided not to seek a second, four-year term in the face of the grand jury’s work and the activities that gave rise to it.
The lack of a criminal indictment, though, is hardly a stamp of approval on Mr. Ravenstahl’s poor performance as mayor, and the public deserves some accounting of what the 23-member panel learned.
Last year, the jury met approximately every five weeks, usually for a day or two. From May through October, the jurors heard testimony from Mr. Ravenstahl’s bodyguards, his executive secretary, two female acquaintances, a former stadium authority chair, his then chief of staff and police brass. On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy discharged the jurors at the end of their 18-month term.
Federal authorities have not said whether the investigation is over.
As is typical in grand jury investigations, the proceedings took place behind closed doors, with participants — jurors, prosecutors, judges and witnesses — largely bound to be tight-lipped. It’s also common that no information comes out if an investigation doesn’t end in indictment, although prosecutors in rare instances do elaborate.
The existence of the grand jury’s probe was well-known, and it was wide-ranging, apparently including the mayor’s security details, work done at Mr. Ravenstahl’s home and a secret bank account under the control of former police Chief Nate Harper, who was indicted by a prior grand jury and subsequently pleaded guilty.
Because the questions were aimed at the highest level of city government, some answers should be provided to the public. If the panel found, as Mr. Ravenstahl has insisted, that he did nothing wrong, authorities should say so. If his actions were questionable but not illegal, that’s worth hearing as well. The jury may have garnered information that could improve city governance going forward.
At a minimum, authorities should say whether this important case is closed.
Such a follow-up from prosecutors is not unprecedented. Current U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton made an announcement last year when no charges arose from an investigation into the outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease at the Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs hospital and again in 2011 when the U.S. Justice Department did not charge three police officers in the case of Jordan Miles.
In 2006, a similar situation occurred involving another Pittsburgh mayor. Six months after Tom Murphy left office, then-U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan announced that a federal inquiry into Mr. Murphy’s handling of negotiations with city firefighters in 2001 had ended with a settlement.
Under its terms, Mr. Murphy did not face charges by agreeing to cooperate with authorities in identifying flaws in the state’s collective bargaining law, holes that allowed him to make a political bargain for support from the firefighters’ union in exchange for agreeing not to cut jobs or close fire stations.
In February, after Harper was sentenced to prison, Mr. Hickton confirmed that the investigation into city corruption would continue. It’s time for him to explain where things stand now. Without more information, the outcome of the inquiry will remain unsatisfying.
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