FBI removes documents from Pittsburgh police in grand jury probe
FBI agents on Tuesday removed employment and training records from Pittsburgh police headquarters on the North Side, city officials said.
Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said between four and six FBI agents went to the special events and personnel and finance offices and took records involving secondary employment, training and travel. The special events office oversees officers working in uniform while off duty.
Donaldson said he did not know whether agents went into the office of Chief Nate Harper, who is under scrutiny for a business he set up with four subordinates and the focus of a federal grand jury investigation.
Seven people carrying nine boxes declined comment as they loaded them into vehicles outside headquarters.
“I think this is hopefully the beginning of the end,” Donaldson said. “An outside agency comes in and looks at our workings, and we can go back to normal.”
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.
A federal grand jury is investigating whether Harper, 60, of Stanton Heights was involved in awarding a contract to a shell company set up by his one-time friend Art Bedway, 63, of Robinson.
Harper has said he did nothing wrong. He acknowledged the FBI search through spokeswoman Diane Richard but referred comment to the Law Department.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl last week asked for an outside review of police policies on officers holding secondary jobs because of concerns over the consultant firm Harper created with Cmdr. Eric Holmes, Sgt. Barry Budd, Officer Tonya Montgomery-Ford and Tamara Davis, a civilian clerk.
In January 2011, Harper requested permission from City Council to send Holmes, Montgomery-Ford and Davis to an FBI training conference, according to records provided by the City Controller's Office. The city reimbursed Holmes, Montgomery-Ford and Davis a combined $4,102.84 for airfare and lodging while they attended an FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association conference in Nashville from April 17-20, 2011, city invoices show.
“I don't understand why a clerk would need executive law enforcement training,” said Sgt. Michael LaPorte, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1.
The FOP complained to Assistant Chief Regina McDonald in the fall about a website known as “detail mafia” that allowed certain officers to circumvent police procedures on taking secondary details, LaPorte said. The website was taken down, he said.
A website identified as Police Memories lists Pittsburgh police merchandise for sale, including “G-20 Challenge Coins” and T-shirts. State records show Police Memories is owned by D&T Enterprises LLC, which lists its headquarters at the Armorhill Avenue home of Montgomery-Ford. D&T Enterprises received about $7,000 from the city in 2011 for providing catering service and merchandise, according to city invoices.
Holmes and Montgomery-Ford could not be reached. Davis declined to comment.
Controller Michael Lamb said the records seizure could sidetrack his plan to begin an audit Wednesday of the special events office accounts. Lamb, who is running for mayor, said he is focusing on money that businesses pay the city for private security work performed by off-duty officers.
Lamb said police personnel informed him that the officers' overtime pay and the administrative fees — about $700,000 a year — are deposited into one account. He believes they should be separated.
“Doing the audit now might prove a little different pending our ability to access records that have been federally seized,” he said.
City Councilman Bill Peduto, the longest serving member, said the federal raid on police headquarters was unprecedented in recent memory. Peduto also is running for the Democratic nomination for mayor in the May primary.
Ravenstahl, his spokeswoman and public safety director could not be reached.
City Solicitor Daniel Regan said the U.S. Attorney's office subpoenaed him Monday for police bureau records.
“We discussed this with them, and we agreed that the most efficient and effective way to comply with the subpoena would be to have representatives of the police bureau meet with them and provide them with the records,” Regan said. “That's what happened. We complied with the subpoena.”
The FBI's use of a subpoena instead of a search warrant shows that prosecutors and federal agents aren't worried that someone will destroy the records they're seeking, said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor and a St. Vincent College law professor.
“They're reasonably confident that they're getting cooperation” from the police department, he said.
Backed by a judge's order, a search warrant gives police the right to immediately search and seize evidence. The target of the warrant can only challenge it after the fact.
A subpoena doesn't compel immediate compliance and the target can file a motion in court to block it.
Antkowiak and University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said it's hard to speculate what the seizure of the documents means or even whether it is connected to the grand jury investigation into the police vehicle contract.
“We know at least that federal prosecutors, through the grand jury, are suspicious there's some wrongdoing, but we don't know what it is,” Burkoff said.
The federal investigation of Harper became public in January. Federal authorities in November accused Bedway, owner of Carnegie-based Victory Security, of conspiring with a former city employee and unidentified others to set up Alpha Outfitters to win a $327,000 contract to install computers in police vehicles.
Harper said the police bureau “had no involvement in securing this contract or making any payments.”
Christine Kebr, 56, of Castle Shannon, a former senior systems analyst for the city, pleaded guilty on Dec. 6 and is awaiting sentencing for conspiring with Bedway to form the company as if it were a female-owned business so he could bid on a contract.
Bedway, Kebr and Sgt. Gordon McDaniel, who oversees the police vehicle fleet, appeared before the grand jury last month.
Attorneys for Bedway, McDaniel and Kebr either declined comment or could not be reached.
Staff writers Brian Bowling, Bobby Kerlik and Tony LaRussa contributed to this report.