Ravenstahl says police chief has his full confidence
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Wednesday reaffirmed confidence in his embattled police chief despite the shadows of a federal investigation and the FBI's seizure of records from police headquarters.
Chief Nate Harper, 60, again assured Ravenstahl that he has done nothing wrong, the mayor told reporters gathered in front of the City-County Building, Downtown.
“At this point I don't plan on making any changes,” Ravenstahl said. “I am confident right now he is still leading the bureau in a way that is acceptable to me. If I feel at any point in time that anything is affecting the chief or his staff, I will act.”
On Tuesday, FBI agents took records from police headquarters in the North Side relating to secondary employment, training and travel from the special events, personnel and finance offices. City Solicitor Dan Regan said the seizure came from a grand jury subpoena.
A federal grand jury is investigating whether Harper, 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.
The special-events office oversees officers who provide off-duty security to businesses. Businesses pay the officers, who work armed and in uniform, plus a fee to the city. A police official said wages and the fees total about $7 million annually.
Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said the FBI is investigating the use of that money. He declined further comment.
Ravenstahl, Controller Michael Lamb and City Council Budget Director Bill Urbanic were unable to explain how the police department documents and tracks payments from administrative fees, which average about $700,000 annually. Those fees don't appear as a separate revenue line in the city's annual budget.
City Finance Director Scott Kunka did not return a phone call or email. Public Safety Director Michael Huss declined comment.
“We should know,” said Lamb, who wants to audit the police account. “We don't really have a good handle on that. That's why we're doing this audit.”
Lamb said police personnel told him the money is deposited into a premium pay account before it is moved to the city's general fund used for daily operations. He said the officer wages and city administrative fees should be separated.
Ravenstahl and Lamb said they have nothing to suggest any of the cash was misused. Ravenstahl said Harper, who became chief in 2006, told him all money received by the department has been handled properly.
“I spoke with the chief today, and he has pledged to me that nothing was done improper or wrong,” Ravenstahl said. “I don't believe it's my duty to be the judge and the jury. My job is to make sure the mission of the police department is being fulfilled, and in my opinion it is.”