Harper lawyer denies claim that former police chief set up bogus firm
A lawyer for a Robinson businessman at the center of a city bid-rigging scandal and federal investigation said on Tuesday that the man's one-time friend, deposed Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper, devised the idea to start a business to contract with police and took $10,000 in kickbacks.
Harper's lawyer dismissed the claim, saying the fact that prosecutors did not charge his client with masterminding the Alpha Outfitters scheme or taking a bribe shows the former friend is lying.
The lawyers' claims added drama to a series of grand jury investigations that started with police computers and reached Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's bodyguards, friends and former political appointees.
The first volley of the day occurred in U.S. District Court, Downtown, where Victory Security founder Arthur Bedway pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery and mail fraud for setting up the shell company Alpha Outfitters with city employee Christine Kebr and a third person prosecutors wouldn't identify, to win a police computer contract.
“The idea of Alpha Outfitters came from Nate Harper. Nate Harper approached Mr. Bedway about this idea. Nate Harper brought Kebr in,” Bedway's attorney, Martin Dietz, told U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon. “This ‘unknown partner' the government refers to is the person who got the whole ball rolling.”
After the hearing, Dietz said Bedway paid Harper $10,000 in payments of $2,000 and $3,000.
Bedway, 63, declined comment as his lawyer spoke to reporters.
Harper attorney Robert Del Greco said his client might have been the third Alpha organizer, but it wasn't his idea, and he took no money.
“He categorically denies the assertions of his former friend, and specifically that he had anything to do with masterminding this,” Del Greco said. “He certainly never took one red cent from Arthur Bedway. He's been clear in his assertions to the FBI that these assertions are not true.”
Harper, 60, of Stanton Heights spoke several times to investigators before and after his March indictment on charges of spending public money he funneled into a police credit union slush fund and failing to file tax returns, and Del Greco said his client knew about Bedway's claims. Harper resigned in February at Ravenstahl's request.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bob Cessar and Lee Karl declined comment.
Del Greco said authorities would have charged Harper if they believed Bedway's claims.
St. Vincent College law professor Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor, said it's possible prosecutors passed on additional charges against Harper in return for cooperation in other investigations.
Harper plans to plead guilty, Del Greco has said. Bedway and Kebr, a former city information systems employee who pleaded guilty in the Alpha Outfitters case, cooperated with investigators, court documents show.
“If Harper is cooperating, or is potentially cooperating, the government may be waiting to see how helpful his cooperation is before charging him,” said Duquesne University law professor Wes Oliver.
Dietz said Bedway's testimony to a grand jury in January did not involve Ravenstahl or the credit union accounts linked to Harper. Bedway's plea agreement, which he signed in January, is secret, and it's unclear what kind of break he will get when he is sentenced on Nov. 20.
Bedway, a former bodybuilder and karate teacher, attended Harper's 2006 swearing-in ceremony as chief. Victory, which Bedway formed in 1981, once employed Harper's wife, Cynthia.
Dietz said he spoke up because his client was characterized as the mastermind of a scheme that was Harper's idea. He said Harper brought in Kebr, 56, of Castle Shannon, who saw the contract through. Kebr resigned in 2011 from her job of reviewing bids and recommending companies for contracts.
Howard Stern, who as director of City Information Systems from 2006 to 2012 was Kebr's boss, said she was assigned to the police and spent about 80 percent of her time working in police headquarters.
Bedway pleaded guilty to paying Kebr $6,000 in bribes. Kebr is awaiting an Oct. 25 sentencing. She could not be reached, and her attorney did not return a call for comment.
Karl said during the plea hearing that Bedway, Kebr and the third person set up Alpha Outfitters in the name of an administrative assistant at Victory Security to make it appear as a female-owned business. City contract documents listed Lois Kolarik, 61, of Sheraden as the owner. Kolarik could not be reached.
Kebr wrote the bid specifications for the contract, coached Bedway on submitting a bid and then recommended Alpha Outfitters, Karl said.
The city paid the company about $327,000 over the life of the contract.
Since Harper was charged, a grand jury subpoenaed police records for private valet companies in the city and interviewed Ravenstahl's personal secretary, former and current bodyguards and acquaintances.
Ravenstahl and his attorney say he is not a target of the investigation.