Money trail leads to Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union
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Giant Eagle expenses, airline fees, hotel rooms and restaurant bills in numerous cities were paid for out of at least two accounts maintained through Pittsburgh police headquarters at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union, the subject of an FBI search last week.
One account is listed as belonging to "Special Events c/o Sandy Ganster," according to documents obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ms. Ganster is the manager of the police bureau's office of personnel and finance. A separate account is marked "I.P.F." with an address of 1203 Western Ave. -- the North Side headquarters of the police bureau.
FBI and IRS officials last week removed documents from the credit union in the West End. The financial institution's president said the agents served subpoenas seeking records connected to a single account belonging to the office of Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper.
Pittsburgh solicitor Daniel Regan confirmed Monday that the Law Department has documents from one police account maintained at the federal credit union and is seeking documents tied to a possible second account.
"We are aware of at least one account, and from the information that we have that account was active as early as 2004, and we're in the process of trying to determine the purpose of that account, what that account was being used for and who used that account," Mr. Regan said.
Unclear until now is whether federal investigators were looking at a link between city funds and the credit union account. The Post-Gazette has learned that a Sept. 16, 2009 University of Pittsburgh check for $5,675.52 to the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police -- meant to pay for work performed by off-duty police officers -- was deposited into the "I.P.F." account at the credit union on Sept. 28, 2009.
That same day, $4,000 was withdrawn from the account.
The withdrawal slip appears to be signed by a police bureau employee. Reached last night by phone, the employee declined to comment.
Frank Amity, a retired city homicide detective and president of the credit union, could not be reached for comment.
Former Pittsburgh police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr., who was in charge of the department through 2005, said Monday night that he was unaware of such an account being opened.
"I don't know anything about that," said Chief McNeilly, who is in charge of the Elizabeth Township police. "I feel pretty confident if it was sanctioned by the department I would have known about it."
Federal investigators have not spoken publicly about the visit to the credit union, which a source familiar with the probe said was linked to a similar removal of documents from the special events and personnel and finance offices at police headquarters one week ago.
City Controller Michael Lamb said last week that there are 15 authorized depositories for all funds paid to the municipal government, regardless of whether the money is for the police bureau or any other department. The credit union is not one of the approved depositories.
"If there were monies diverted to a non-approved depository of the city I'd have to think, well, I don't know what you would characterize that other than as a theft," Mr. Lamb said.
Records from the I.P.F. account, for instance, show charges in 2009 from transactions at a Bethesda, Md., gas station ($36.17), Restaurant Depot in Pittsburgh ($489.23), Giant Eagle ($737.81), Palm Restaurant in Denver ($140.67) and the Westin Tabor Center in Denver ($1,107.93).
The other account, under Ms. Ganster's name, showed Visa debit card activity and at least one check being written.
The debit charges in 2010, for example, include the Grandview Saloon in Pittsburgh ($49.13), two separate charges at the Westin Hotel in Alexandria, Va. (each for $713.16), the Holiday Inn Key Bridge in Arlington, Va., ($2,213.52), the Doubletree Crystal City in Arlington ($705.60) and Bistro Francais ($47.08) and Ming's Restaurant ($72.70), both in Washington, D.C.
Ms. Ganster has not responded to repeated messages left at her office and home over the past 10 days.
Even as the federal probe is ongoing, Mr. Lamb is auditing the police bureau's secondary employment office. Records obtained by the Post-Gazette show that in 2012 the office brought in nearly $6.2 million in money from private employers that was to pay officers who worked while off-duty. Another $792,000 went to the city as a "cost recovery fee" assessed to the private businesses.
Officers who moonlight in uniform are assigned to lucrative off-duty work using a computer system or through the use of other officers who work as "schedulers." Officers are typically paid at time-and-a-half and can work side jobs up to 32 hours a week.
Work outside the regular work day for police officers has drawn much scrutiny of late. Federal agents are collecting documents, the controller is performing his audit and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has hired former Washington County District Attorney Steven M. Toprani to review the city's secondary employment practices.
Chief McNeilly said toward the end of his tenure in Pittsburgh he worked to reform the way officer moonlighting was handled by the bureau.
"In 2005, I was trying to get them all going through the city because there were way too many things going on. They were undercutting each other. You had officers working details on opposite sides of the street who were having disputes. It was out of control. We wanted it to go through the city," Chief McNeilly said.
"I think any time officers get to run their own details or get to schedule officers on details there's a lot of chances for ethical violations. Officers get to the point where they feel they owe more to the company that scheduled them than they owe to the City of Pittsburgh."
First Published February 19, 2013 12:00 am