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FBI has interviewed Harper twice since indictment

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 3:06 p.m.
The FBI has interviewed former Pittsburgh police Chief Nathan Harper twice since a federal grand jury in March indicted him on five counts of failing to file federal tax returns and diverting public money,

FBI agents investigating Pittsburgh police finances have twice interviewed former Chief Nate Harper since a grand jury indicted him on charges of failing to file federal income tax returns and skimming public money for personal use, his lawyers said on Thursday.

Attorneys Robert Del Greco and Robert Leight would not talk about what Harper discussed with investigators since his March 22 indictment but said he is cooperating with the government as the U.S. Attorney's Office continues looking at city matters.

“He's cooperated from the outset,” Del Greco said after a hearing in Harper's case in the federal courthouse, Downtown. “When the police asked him questions, he answered them.”

Leight told U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon that Harper likely will plead guilty to federal charges sometime this summer. Harper did not attend the status conference.

The attorneys declined to say whether the FBI has questioned Harper about Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who earlier said he had met with FBI agents and was told that he was not a target of the investigation.

Del Greco said it would be irresponsible for them to talk about the discussions and they have not seen all the evidence investigators have gathered.

“They have information that we're not privy to,” he said.

Ravenstahl asked for Harper's resignation Feb. 20.

Although the investigation continues, Leight said, “based on the evidence they've shown us, we do not expect further charges against Chief Harper.”

Harper might testify before a grand jury, or an FBI agent could relay his testimony to grand jurors, Leight said.

The grand jury concluded that Harper, 60, of Stanton Heights diverted money earned by city officers working secondary employment jobs into secret accounts he arranged at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union.

Authorities said Harper directed at least $70,629 into the non-city accounts and spent at least $31,987 on meals and drinks, gifts, a TV and other personal uses. The money came from businesses that hire off-duty officers.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton has said the city investigation continues, though his office won't comment on what that involves.

Prosecutors also charged Harper with failing to file income tax returns from 2008 to 2011 on salary ranging from $110,000 to $123,000.

Acting Chief Regina McDonald on Friday expects to receive a police committee's recommendations about ways to change the secondary employment policy, police spokeswoman Diane Richard said.

McDonald established the committee to review policy in March. Its members are council members Darlene Harris and Theresa Smith, Public Safety Director Michael Huss and members of the police department, Richard said.

“That report will be submitted to the command staff for their review,” Richard said. “Final recommendations will then be submitted to Director Huss.”

Richard said the committee “reviewed best practices and policies and procedures from major cities regarding secondary employment,” and once the report is submitted, “we will wait for further instructions from the director of public safety.”

Lt. Jennifer Ford, who chaired the committee, declined to comment on its recommendations.

McDonald has ended off-duty assignments at strip clubs over the protests of the police union.

Huss this week nixed a police department plan to pair off-duty officers with on-duty officers and supervisors working South Side entertainment spots, saying the department needs to fix its problems before starting a pilot program involving secondary employment.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or Staff writer Margaret Harding contributed to this report.

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