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DA Zappala: Pittsburgh chief's involvement in private company not illegal

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 5:32 p.m.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Wednesday said he maintains full confidence in his police chief despite a federal investigation and the FBI’s seizure of records from police headquarters. A federal grand jury is investigating whether police Chief Nate Harper, 60, was involved in awarding a contract to a shell company set up by his one-time friend Art Bedway, 63, of Robinson. File photo

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said on Thursday that there's nothing illegal about a private consulting company Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper set up with four officers, because the company appears to be dormant.

The company — Diverse Public Safety Consultants LLC — could not get a private detective license, however, and could become a problem if Harper started doing private security work while leading the department, Zappala said.

“As an active police officer, certainly in a high administrative position, you're very limited to what you can do,” Zappala said, citing state laws for private detectives.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he became aware on Wednesday that Harper and four other officers set up the outside company. The mayor met with Harper but declined to disclose details of their conversation.

He said he instructed the city Law Department to review Harper's role in the company and to determine whether any improprieties exist. He expects a report from lawyers on Friday.

“We want to make sure we're diligent in taking a look at all aspects of this,” Ravenstahl said. “We want to be thorough and not rush to any conclusions.”

Harper, 59, could not be reached at his Stanton Heights home and declined to comment through police spokeswoman Diane Richard.

A federal investigation of Harper became public in January and centers on whether the chief was involved in awarding a contract to a shell company set up by one-time friend Art Bedway, 63, of Robinson, owner of Carnegie-based Victory Security. Federal authorities in November accused Bedway of conspiring with former city employee Christine Kebr and unidentified others to set up Alpha Outfitters to win a contract to install computers in police vehicles.

Harper has said the police bureau “had no involvement in securing this contract or making any payments.”

Bedway, Kebr and Sgt. Gordon McDaniel, who oversees the police vehicle fleet, appeared before the grand jury last month.

Ravenstahl said he's heard rumors that Harper is considering retirement, but the chief remains on the job and has given no indication that he plans to retire. Ravenstahl named Harper chief in October 2006. He is set to make $105,000 this year.

Paperwork was filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State's Corporation Bureau on Feb. 28, 2012, listing Harper and three other city officers — Cmdr. Eric Holmes, Sgt. Barry Budd and Officer Tonya Ford — along with police civilian employee Tamara Davis, as organizers of Diverse Public Safety Consultants.

Holmes and Budd declined to comment. Ford could not be reached for comment.

“I don't really think there's anything to tell other than that I have no comment,” Davis said.

The paperwork listed the company's address at 100 River Road in McKees Rocks. Richard Mongiovi, owner of the building there, said he did not know why it was listed and does not know Harper or any of the officers. He said he had not yet spoken to his tenant JRD Sales, a contractor supply company.

“This is all news to me,” Mongiovi said.

Zappala said active police officers are not eligible to be licensed as private detectives because they have access to intelligence and investigative information that should be used to benefit only the public and not a private business.

“The courts have referred to it as a public policy issue; that it's a potential conflict of interest for a public servant and a potential abuse of power,” Zappala said.

R. Paul McCauley, professor emeritus and former chairman of Indiana University of Pennsylvania's criminology department, said such outside businesses should be cleared through some kind of ethics officer at the local, county or state level.

“It is an issue of integrity,” McCauley said. “If it doesn't look right, people become suspicious and will say it isn't (right), even if it is. That matters.”

Police policy prohibits outside employment that presents a potential conflict of interest and lists as an example of such employment: “as an investigator for a private sector agency or any employment which might require the police officer to have access to police information, files, records or services as a condition of employment.”

Zappala said police officers who work private security details are fine, but outside work that requires investigative work poses a problem. Even if Harper was just doing consulting work, it could pose problems because of his position, Zappala said.

Staff writer Margaret Harding contributed to this report. Bobby Kerlik and Bob Bauder are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Kerlik can be reached at 412-320-7886or bkerlik@tribweb.com. Bauder can be reached at 412-765-2312or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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