A recap: The investigation of the Pittsburgh police
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl had stood behind Nate Harper as recently as Tuesday. But after being interviewed by FBI investigators Wednesday, he said, "I learned enough to know that it was time to ask Chief Harper to resign."
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Remember January, when crime in the city seemed under control, and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police looked like an asset, as Mayor Luke Ravenstahl started his re-election bid? Come late February, the police chief has been forced to resign, other employees are on leave, the FBI is pulling paper and the mayor is struggling to show that the bureau is under control, even as his political rivals claim it's in chaos.
In short, news out of the bureau suggested that for some officers and brass, side jobs had become as integral as sidearms -- and "by the book" changed to "off the books." In case you missed a story or two, here's a guide to the investigation. The graphic below [click on the image] shows all the players, while the text recaps the story thus far:
On Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl spent two hours with federal agents who were investigating Pittsburgh police finances. He emerged and said that "I learned enough to know that it was time to ask Chief [Nate] Harper to resign," effective immediately.
But the skies had started to darken around Mr. Harper on Nov. 16, 2012, when a federal indictment of Art Bedway was made public.
Mr. Bedway had been a longtime friend of Mr. Harper's. One firm chaired by Mr. Bedway, Victory Security, had employed Mr. Harper's wife, Cynthia Harper. Prior to that, Alpha Outfitters -- a business prosecutors said Mr. Bedway controlled -- had won a 2007 contract to outfit the bureau's cars with radios and computers.
In the indictment and a related criminal information, Mr. Bedway and Christine Ann Kebr, a former systems analyst for the city, were charged with conspiring to rig the contract won by Alpha Outfitters.
Mr. Bedway later pleaded not guilty to the charges of mail fraud, bribery and conspiracy. Ms. Kebr, though, pleaded guilty to conspiracy -- and said Mr. Bedway paid her $6,000 to help rig the bid.
Federal prosecutors kept indicating that there was an unnamed third person at meetings involving the bid. In January, Mr. Bedway and his wife, Colleen Bedway, appeared before a federal grand jury. On Jan. 25, Mr. Harper said he wasn't involved in the bid, which lowered the heat -- for almost two weeks.
On Feb. 7, the Post-Gazette reported that Mr. Harper in February 2012 was one of five organizers of a company called Diverse Public Safety Consultants, created in a city public housing unit but then moved to the address of a McKees Rocks building materials business.
The four other organizers all worked for the bureau or in its headquarters. One, Cmdr. Eric Holmes, was promoted six months after the consultancy was created. (On Feb. 9, the PG reported that Cmdr. Holmes had previously been permitted by Mr. Harper, in 2007 and 2008, to serve as interim head of Slippery Rock University's police force while keeping his duties as a city sergeant.)
Another business apparently involving at least one of the consultancy's organizers, D&T Enterprises, billed the bureau $7,037 for catered dinners and drawstring bags in 2011.
On Feb. 12, days after news of the businesses broke, FBI agents marched out of Police Bureau headquarters on the North Side with boxes of documents -- notably including some from the special events office and the personnel and finance office. The former handles secondary employment by officers, and the latter manages payroll and processes checks from private businesses. Secondary employment is work police do for bars, banks, construction contractors and others in return for time and a half, paid by private interests but funneled through the bureau, plus a $3.85-per-officer-per-hour administration fee for the city.
Were the FBI agents concerned that a so-called "detail mafia" was manipulating the secondary employment system? Or were they checking to see whether some payments for off-duty police had leaked out of the city's accounting system?
Feds don't talk about ongoing investigations. But on or around Feb. 14, they took files from the nonprofit Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union, which is independent from the police bureau and city government. An official with the credit union said investigators were looking at accounts that the chief's office opened.
Documents indicated that at least one payment meant to cover secondary employment fees found its way into the credit union, even though it isn't one of the 15 authorized recipients of city funds. And even as the mayor professed ignorance, he confirmed that his security guards had debit cards that tapped a credit union account.
Did Mr. Ravenstahl know the cards drew from an unauthorized account? He said no.
But a former longtime security detail member, retired Pittsburgh police Detective Fred Crawford Jr., said the mayor "knew firsthand" that expenditures on the cards weren't accessible through public records requests, and favored them for that very reason.
"Patently false," the mayor said of Mr. Crawford's contention, reported in Friday's PG.
But the hammer had already fallen on the chief, after the two hours that Mr. Ravenstahl spent with members of the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office. At the Wednesday evening news conference announcing Mr. Harper's forced resignation, the mayor declined to detail what he heard behind closed doors that sapped his confidence in the chief he appointed in October 2006, shortly after becoming mayor.
Mr. Harper, 60, was out after serving more than 30 years in the department. Assistant Chief of Administration Regina McDonald was named acting chief, pending a search. Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson was not named as acting chief, Mr. Ravenstahl said, because he was on vacation.
Three headquarters employees involved in private firms -- Officer Tonya Montgomery-Ford and civilians Tammy Davis and Kim Montgomery -- were placed on involuntary paid leave, while personnel and finance manager Sandy Ganster went on voluntary leave.
"We are going to look at the entire bureau," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "I don't expect any radical and/or massive changes."
His rivals were looking for one massive change: a new mayor.
"There is an old adage, a fish smells from the head down," said Councilman William Peduto, a Democratic mayoral challenger. "There needs to be leadership that comes out of the mayor's office."
"There is a public process for the expenditure of city money," Controller Michael Lamb said. "This process has been subverted, purposefully, with intent, and the mayor needs to understand and explain ... why he thinks that was OK."
Mr. Ravenstahl on Friday said he was trying to obtain documents that would show that all the debit card expenditures by security detail officers were for legitimate city business. But he was unable to immediately produce those records, he said, because they were the property of the police credit union and his request was denied because it was a "noncity account."
Where to next?
Politically, the heat isn't likely to relent, with Mr. Lamb's campaign sending out lists of loaded questions daily and Mr. Peduto claiming a pattern of mismanagement. There's no telling where the federal probe will go, as a grand jury -- which by law operates in secret -- potentially views the FBI-held boxes of documents and hears witnesses.
Editor's note, posted Feb. 24, 2013: In the attached graphic, none of the people whose names appear directly under the headings "Pittsburgh Bureau of Police" or "Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union" was personally subpoenaed except where specifically noted. The police bureau and the credit union received subpoenas compelling them to turn over records to investigators.
First Published February 24, 2013 12:00 am