Federal inquiry into Pittsburgh police widens as jury gets more files

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After weeks of no noticeable activity, a months-long federal investigation of Pittsburgh police affairs broadened Tuesday as officials confirmed that documents concerning parking variances were subpoenaed by a grand jury and turned over to prosecutors.

The subpoenas mark the second wave of requests this year for paperwork from the police bureau by federal investigators -- the first having helped lead to the indictment in March of former police Chief Nate Harper on a charge that he helped skim more than $70,000 in city funds.

City Solicitor Daniel Regan would not reveal what records were sought or which individual, city department or departments maintained them.

Acting police Chief Regina McDonald, however, acknowledged that one subpoena served last week sought "all variances as issued to public or private entities (vendors) for the purpose of securing parking spaces within the City of Pittsburgh" for the past five years.

At least six boxes of documents, some marked "Parking Variances," were delivered Tuesday morning to the federal courthouse on Grant Street by narcotics Sgt. Michael Tracy and narcotics Detective Harry Hilley.

They first took the boxes to the grand jury room on the seventh floor but were redirected to the U.S. attorney's office three floors below.

The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police handles requests for parking variances, fields complaints and coordinates enforcement. Such variances to park vehicles in spots where they normally would be prohibited are granted to businesses such as valet parking firms that need access to guaranteed on-street parking.

News of the subpoenas came to light on the same day that city council passed an ordinance tightening regulations governing valet parking.

In February, federal investigators subpoenaed records from both the police bureau and the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union as they pursued allegations that Mr. Harper and others within the bureau had misappropriated city funds and deposited them in secret credit union accounts.

Mr. Harper's attorneys have said he plans to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy and four counts of failing to file federal income taxes.

Mr. Regan refused to provide details about the current batch of subpoenas including how many there are, when they were served, which departments they targeted, what records were sought or in what format they were turned over to authorities.

"We received requests for additional documents. As we have throughout the course of the investigation we've complied, and we're going to continue to comply with any request," Mr. Regan said. "The requests were for documents that were administrative in nature."

Chief McDonald said through her spokeswoman that the current subpoenas were the only ones served on the bureau since February. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contacted numerous city departments and city-related authorities in an effort to determine who else received subpoenas. All either denied receipt or declined comment.

Public safety director Michael Huss said he did not become aware of the subpoenas until Monday when contacted by the media. He said he has not seen them and did not know if he would necessarily be apprised of subpoenas issued for records under the aegis of public safety.

The U.S. attorney's office would not provide details of the ongoing federal investigation.

Controversy has arisen this year over complaints about aggressive tactics allegedly used by the valet service operating in Market Square, Tri-State Valet Inc. That company is run by Robert Gigliotti, the husband of city police Detective Linda Gigliotti and a friend of both Mr. Harper and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Neither Mr. Gigliotti nor his attorney could be reached for comment.

The Market Square Merchants Association met with Tri-State in March to discuss various issues.

"There are unhappy customers that have been voicing their concerns to us, the businessmen, in a very negative way," Peter Landis, managing partner of Perle, a Market Square champagne bar, and co-chairman of the association, said in a March interview.

Mr. Landis said he has heard that occasionally Tri-State employees "were monopolizing additional spaces in addition to the ones issued by the variance."

Police have confirmed that Tri-State was granted more parking spaces through its variance than any other valet service operating in Pittsburgh.

Asked why, Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant, who ultimately oversees variances, said, "To my knowledge, it is because Tri-State requested the spaces."

Mr. Harper handled the granting of at least some of the variances to Tri-State, according to former Assistant Chief William Bochter. Typically Mr. Bochter dealt with them but, he said, the chief had the discretion to leapfrog over him and handle variance requests directly.

"I don't know that Gigliotti received favoritism," Mr. Bochter said.

Mr. Gigliotti is associated with at least four valet companies in the city, including Tri-State, which handles the Le Mont restaurant on Mount Washington, where many of the city's priciest fundraisers are held.

Mr. Gigliotti was a member of the host committee for an Oct. 13, 2011, fundraiser, at $500 per person, held by the mayor at the Fairmont Pittsburgh hotel.

On Tuesday morning, Pittsburgh City Council unanimously passed the city's first legislation regulating valet parking.

The bills, sponsored by councilmen Daniel Lavelle and Bruce Kraus, will require valet operators to apply for an $100 license through the Department of Public Works for each location where they operate.

They also include language that precludes a valet operator from forcing the public to use valet parking and limits the amount of on-street parking used by valet parking operators.

Mr. Lavelle said he decided to write the legislation after receiving a number of complaints about valet parking in Market Square.

He said customers carped that valet employees told them that street parking belonged to the valet company, and that a valet operator was parking cars in public spaces outside of their variance.

"They would then be parking your car where you yourself could actually park your car" without using the valet service, he said.

Finally, he said he found that some valet operators were able to get more spaces than others.

Chief Bryant has capped the allotment of parking spaces to valet services at four.

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Staff writers Moriah Balingit and Rich Lord contributed. First Published May 7, 2013 11:45 AM


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