Ravenstahl offers few answers about federal investigation into police spending

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 12:15 p.m.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said on Wednesday during a rare public appearance that federal authorities have sent him no personal subpoenas or target letter as their investigation of Pittsburgh police spending has crept closer to his office.

Ravenstahl, 33, deflected many questions about the investigation but answered more than he has in several months. Dressed in a blazer with no tie, Ravenstahl arrived 10 minutes late for an event to announce a city energy initiative.

“All those things will come out in the end,” he said beside the Engine 27 fire station in Mt. Washington as reporters asked him about the FBI's attempts to interview his ex-wife, what one of his former bodyguards might have to say and about a former city contractor set to plead guilty to bid-rigging.

He said he hasn't spoken with investigators since February. He mentioned cooperating with the investigation but would not say how.

“I look forward to the truth prevailing,” he said. He referred some questions to his personal attorney, Charles Porter Jr., who did not return a call.

The mayor insisted the investigation has not affected his leadership of the city. He denied any connection between the investigation and reduced public appearances since he announced March 1 he would not seek re-election, but he would not explain his low profile.

“The fact that I've withdrawn from public view to a certain extent is a decision I've made, but in no way is it an indication of me not doing my job,” he said. “You all think my job is talking to you.”

Ravenstahl on Tuesday met privately in his conference room with several people who donated to a charity program. Reporters were not allowed in.

Before that, 33 days passed since his last public appearance for a police promotion ceremony in City Hall. He would not answer questions then about the investigation.

If Ravenstahl is concerned about the investigation's dark cloud, “He should be looking for the sunshine himself,” said Gerald Shuster, a professor of political communications at the University of Pittsburgh.

“The mere fact that he has to say that he is (doing his job) gives credence to the criticism that he may not be,” said Shuster, who called Ravenstahl a bit of a political recluse since the investigation became public in January.

During the spring primary, the candidates to replace Ravenstahl seized on his absence from public view, promising to take a more active role in leadership. The winner of the Democratic primary, Councilman Bill Peduto, this week spent two days in Harrisburg meeting with lawmakers and state officials on behalf of the city.

“Part of your role as mayor is being visible and doing a certain amount of public relations,” Shuster said.

Weeks after a grand jury in March indicted former police Chief Nate Harper on corruption charges, two of Ravenstahl's bodyguards and his personal secretary appeared before a grand jury.

Investigators have copies of valet parking permits the city issued to Robert Gigliotti, a Ravenstahl political supporter who is friends with Harper. Ravenstahl said the city received no more subpoenas for records since turning over the parking permits in May.

Porter said authorities were looking at records of home improvements done at the mayor's Fineview home by city contractor William J. Rogers. The mayor's ex-wife, Erin Feith, rejected two attempts by federal investigators to interview her about the mayor, her lawyer said.

Harper has spoken with federal authorities at least twice since his indictment on charges of tax evasion and using city money from secret credit union accounts on personal spending. Harper plans to plead guilty, his lawyers say.

Another former Harper friend and former contractor, Arthur Bedway, plans to plead guilty to charges connected to a rigged contract bid once he negotiates a deal with prosecutors. He has been cooperating with authorities.

Ravenstahl said Wednesday he has never met Bedway, 63, of Robinson.

Ravenstahl's former police bodyguard, Fred Crawford, said this month he would “spill his guts” to investigators about what he considered improper use of the guards and credit union cards.

Ravenstahl repeated his position that Crawford is not telling the truth. Crawford could not be reached for comment.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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