A federal grand jury took its investigation to Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office door on Wednesday.
Ravenstahl's longtime personal secretary, Melissa Demme, and his police bodyguards, Sgts. Dominick Sciulli and Matthew Gauntner, met privately with grand jurors and the prosecutors who headed the investigation of former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper.
The probe has moved into Ravenstahl's inner circle and appeared to focus on employees acquainted with the mayor's daily schedule and with access to sanctioned and unsanctioned expense accounts.
Demme's desk sits inches from the door to Ravenstahl's fifth-floor executive suite in the City-County Building. She has worked for Ravenstahl since his days as a member of City Council and acts as gatekeeper to Ravenstahl's office, informing other employees if Ravenstahl is meeting behind a closed door with someone, is on the phone or out of the office.
Demme, 41, spent about a half-hour with the grand jury, whose proceedings are secret. She did not respond to reporters' questions as she left. A woman accompanying her blocked reporters from getting into the elevator with them.
Sciulli, Ravenstahl's primary bodyguard, spent about 40 minutes in the grand jury room. He ignored reporters' questions as he left. Attorney Patrick Livingston accompanied him but declined to comment.
Gauntner, a former bodyguard, spent less than an hour with the grand jury. He declined to comment. His attorney, Martin Dietz, said his client received a subpoena last month.
“He agreed to testify, and he told the truth,” Dietz said. “He was fully cooperative with the government.”
Ravenstahl's spokeswoman, Marissa Doyle, said he was not available to speak with reporters but released a statement: “Since the beginning of this process my administration has cooperated fully with authorities. I intend for that practice to continue with any future inquiries, and I look forward to the revelation of all the facts.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bob Cessar and Lee Karl did not comment as they left the grand jury room. Ravenstahl's attorney, Charles Porter, did not return a call.
Public Safety Director Mike Huss said he learned about the grand jury activity through news reports. He declined to comment on Demme's appearance.
Acting police Chief Regina McDonald said Sciulli and Gauntner remain on duty. Gauntner was reassigned to work nights from the Highland Park station, to fill a vacancy. Sciulli remains Ravenstahl's bodyguard, McDonald said.
Sciulli, 41, and Gauntner, 42, have had a front-row seat to Ravenstahl's professional and personal life. They have guarded him at news conferences during the day and at bars, restaurants and sporting events at night, drawing criticism from some as they racked up tens of thousands of dollars in overtime.
Demme handles Ravenstahl's schedule and coordinates his travel arrangements through a city-issued credit card.
Messages from Demme's city email address are peppered throughout Ravenstahl's travel and spending receipts.
For instance, in November, Demme wrote email messages to Paul McKrell, Ravenstahl's policy director and former campaign manager, and another city employee to arrange a trip for McKrell and Ravenstahl to attend a forum at the University of Illinois in Chicago. The confirmation for a Hilton Hotel booking in Chicago went to Demme's email account.
Ravenstahl forced Harper, 60, of Stanton Heights to resign on Feb. 20. Harper's attorneys have said he intends to plead guilty to arranging a slush fund account with debit cards at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union and tapping it for at least $30,000 in personal expenses.
Sciulli used a debit card from the fund to pay for hotel stays and gas purchases during trips with the mayor. The account statement, released by the mayor's office, shows 15 charges between Jan. 22, 2009, and Nov. 11, 2011, totaling $1,812.
Money that businesses paid to the city to hire off-duty police officers fueled the credit union account. The money was supposed to cover the costs of defending lawsuits or replacing uniforms and other equipment damaged in the course of officers' moonlighting activities.
Several police administrators had debit cards tied to the account. Records show that Gauntner never used his card.
Ravenstahl in February blamed Harper for opening at least one secret discretionary spending account linked to the debit cards at the credit union. Ravenstahl has insisted he did not know about the account's existence.
He denied accusations by former police bodyguard Fred Crawford that Ravenstahl knew of the account and wanted his bodyguards to use credit union debit cards to shield his travel, meal and lodging expenses from media scrutiny under the state's Right to Know Law.
Staff writers Margaret Harding and Bob Bauder contributed. Bobby Kerlik and Brian Bowling are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Kerlik at 412-320-7886 or email@example.com. Reach Bowling at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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