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Grand jury investigating Pittsburgh police chief meets for second day

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 12:52 p.m.

A prosecutor on Wednesday presented at least one more witness to a federal grand jury investigating whether Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper played a role in awarding a city contract that defrauded the government.

Former city employee Christine Kebr, 56, of Castle Shannon spent about 30 minutes in the grand jury room. She pleaded guilty in December to helping businessman Art Bedway, 63, of Robinson set up a shell company to win a contract to install computers in Pittsburgh police cars.

The grand jury is investigating whether Harper, 59, of Stanton Heights was involved. He has not been charged and has said the police bureau “had no involvement in securing this contract or making any payments.” Harper was unavailable for comment.

Kebr and her attorney, Gary Gerson, declined to comment after her appearance, as did Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Cessar, the prosecutor in the case.

Bedway spent two hours on Tuesday testifying before the grand jury. He and his attorney, Martin Dietz, declined comment afterward.

University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said the timing of Kebr's appearance, a day after Bedway's, provides no clue about the status of the case.

Prosecutors could have asked the jury to indict or they could be months away from making a request, he said.

“There's just no way to tell,” Burkoff said. Grand jury proceedings are secret.

What's more certain is that Kebr is a prosecution witness since she made a plea agreement with the government. Federal prosecutors rarely make plea deals that don't require a defendant to cooperate in an investigation, Burkoff said.

“There's no reason, if you're the government, not to put that in and that's the primary reason (for a plea bargain) in a multi-person investigation,” he said.

Bedway's appearance before the grand jury was unusual because he's under indictment for conspiracy, bribery and mail fraud. He sought a delay in his case on Jan. 10 because he was discussing a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Legal experts said his appearance could signify he reached a deal with the government.

Court documents say Kebr and Bedway conspired with others to set up Alpha Outfitters to obtain the contract. In bid documents, the company claims to be a wholly woman-owned business, a factor that would help in its consideration. The bid listed Lois Kolarik, 61, of Sheraden as company contact. Her attorney, Stephen Stallings, declined comment.

Prosecutors say Bedway controlled the company. They say Kebr accepted $6,000 from Bedway for her role in the fraud.

Staff writer Margaret Harding contributed to this report. Bobby Kerlik and Brian Bowling are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Kerlik can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com. Bowling can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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