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Grand jury continues investigation in meeting with former Ravenstahl bodyguard

James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Fred Crawford Jr. (right), Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s former bodyguard, and his attorney, Robert Stewart, make their way on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, to the federal courthouse, Downtown.

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By Bobby Kerlik and Brian Bowling
Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 1:12 p.m.
 

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is a target of a federal investigation, and he wasted taxpayer dollars by keeping police bodyguards with him during late-night “carousing,” the attorney for one of those bodyguards said Tuesday.

Attorney Robert Stewart, who represents former bodyguard and retired detective Fred Crawford Jr. of Morningside, spoke outside the federal courthouse Downtown after Crawford spent more than two hours testifying before a grand jury. Crawford would not answer reporters' questions.

“I certainly believe he's a target,” Stewart said of the mayor. “There may be other dimensions to this, but the majority of what information Mr. Crawford had focused on that.”

Ravenstahl attorney Charles Porter said federal agents have not informed him that the mayor is a target. He denied his client engaged in wrongdoing.

“We don't believe there's any federal crime with this notion of going out with the protection of bodyguards. These guys are allowed to have a life,” Porter said. “Obviously they're investigating the workings and machinations of what's going on, but the fact that there's an investigation doesn't mean there will be criminal charges.”

Ravenstahl's office did not comment. Ravenstahl has said Crawford is lying. “I don't know that there's any legal action that I'll take,” he said in March. “I wouldn't mind jamming him up.”

If the mayor continues to assert that his client is a liar, Stewart said, “he will be committing a separate crime of trying to intimidate a witness. ... I think it's just a bully being backed into a corner.”

Bruce Antkowiak, a St. Vincent College law professor and former federal prosecutor, said he's never heard of someone being prosecuted for witness intimidation simply for saying someone else is lying. Such a prosecution would have serious hurdles to overcome, he said.

“There is that First Amendment around that allows us to say that someone who is accusing us of wrongdoing is lying,” Antkowiak said.

Though grand jury proceedings are secret, a government investigation that began with a contract for police equipment appears to have broadened. It led to Ravenstahl's doorstep when bodyguards Sgt. Dom Sciulli and Sgt. Matthew Gauntner, and the mayor's personal secretary, Melissa Demme, testified last month.

In March, prosecutors charged former Chief Nate Harper, 60, of Stanton Heights with failing to file income tax returns and with tapping a police slush fund for at least $30,000 in personal expenses. Ravenstahl asked Harper to resign in February.

Stewart declined to discuss specifics of Crawford's testimony but said his client stands by his statements that bodyguards were told not to mark specific times they worked on overtime cards, only the total hours, in order to conceal the mayor's nights out.

“I don't know if they were ordered to lie, but I think someone has already disclosed to the media that time sheets were manipulated,” Stewart said.

Gauntner's attorney, Martin Dietz, didn't disagree with Stewart's comments that bodyguards were told to leave blank the specific times worked on overtime cards to conceal the mayor's late nights. An attorney for Sciulli couldn't be reached.

“I don't dispute what Bob Stewart said, but I'm not going to comment on Matt Gauntner's testimony before the grand jury,” Dietz said.

Porter denied the assertion. He compared Ravenstahl's use of bodyguards to that of President Obama being guarded by the Secret Service while playing golf with Tiger Woods, or Gov. Tom Corbett having a drink at a bar while state police stand guard.

“The mayor denies he told Crawford to do anything inappropriate. They were reporting the correct number of hours on the cards,” Porter said. “If the argument is that the mayor was trying to hide his late nights, I think the public could clearly see the mayor was out.

“Without question, (Crawford) has a bias against my client. He has a perception of how he was treated when he was not brought back on as a bodyguard.”

Last week, Ravenstahl reiterated that Crawford lied when he said the mayor knew about secret accounts at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union and directed bodyguards to use debit cards from there to hide expenses.

“Anything he says at this point forward, I discount,” Ravenstahl said.

Stewart said Crawford received limited immunity for his testimony. Prosecutors do not comment on grand jury proceedings.

As Crawford left the courthouse, a city police car pulled alongside the sidewalk, with its light bar flashing, and Officer Robert Swartzwelder offered Crawford a ride. He got into the car and left.

“I give rides to retired officers all the time. I offered Fred a ride. He was free to decline; he did not,” Swartzwelder said.

Crawford returned from working as a security consultant in Afghanistan at the end of May. He told the Tribune-Review that he would talk with investigators.

Crawford's veracity came into question once before. Former deputy coroner Timothy Uhrich, an attorney in private practice, conducted the inquest into a 1997 shooting at Small World bar in Homewood and publicly concluded that Crawford's version of events had “no credibility.”

Crawford shot and killed a man who aimed a gun at him while he was working a secondary detail at the bar. Crawford said the man ignored his order to drop the gun.

Uhrich said the shooting was justified but he questioned Crawford's version of events because witnesses countered it.

Uhrich said he thinks Crawford was encouraged to testify that he followed regulations, though he would not say who he thought pressured Crawford.

“Do I think Fred Crawford is a liar? No,” Uhrich said.

Staff writers David Conti and Margaret Harding contributed. Bobby Kerlik and Brian Bowling are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Kerlik at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com. Reach Bowling at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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