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PPD chief might return to work Monday, won't talk investigation

| Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 3:22 p.m.

Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper said he might return to work on Monday, but he refused to answer questions about a federal investigation into whether he was involved in awarding a contract to a shell company set up by his one-time friend Art Bedway.

Reached on Friday, Harper declined to say whether he had received a target letter from a federal grand jury or testified.

Bedway, 63, of Robinson owns Carnegie-based Victory Security. In November, federal prosecutors accused Bedway of conspiring with a former city employee and unidentified others to set up Alpha Outfitters to win a contract to install computers in police vehicles.

Harper has not been charged and has said the police bureau “had no involvement in securing this contract or making any payments.”

The city paid more than $327,000 to Alpha Outfitters between 2007 and 2009 for work on police vehicles, according to federal prosecutors. A grand jury charged Bedway with bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud, saying he and former city employee Christine Kebr, 56, of Castle Shannon conspired in 2006 with others to form Alpha Outfitters as if it were a female-owned business so he could bid on a contract.

This week, the grand jury heard testimony from Bedway and Kebr, who spent about 30 minutes in the grand jury room. She pleaded guilty in December to helping Bedway.

Harper has described Bedway as a former friend. The chief said his wife, Cynthia Harper, 58, once worked as a consultant with Kathleen Bowman, co-owner of Victory Security.

Nate Harper, 59, of Stanton Heights has been out of the office because of the death of his mother.

“It's possible,” he said when asked whether he'll return to work on Monday.

On Thursday, Deputy Police Chief Paul Donaldson issued a memo to the police bureau saying, “In addition to my normal duties I will continue to serve as the acting chief of police until the return of Chief Harper.”

“I don't know anything about what's going on other than I know he took some time off for his mother,” said City Council President Darlene Harris.

Councilmen Corey O'Connor and Daniel Lavelle said they had no information regarding Harper's status.

Joanna Doven, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's spokeswoman, said Harper hasn't informed the mayor when he'll return to work. “But we understand he's mourning the loss of his mother and taking care of his mother's affairs,” Doven said. “In his absence, Chief Donaldson is the acting chief.”

Doven said the mayor has not asked the chief to step down.

Harper joined the department in 1977 and is set to make $105,000 this year. He was appointed chief in 2006 by Ravenstahl.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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