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Top 2 Pittsburgh police officials called before grand jury

- Acting Pittburgh police Chief Regina McDonald
Acting Pittburgh police Chief Regina McDonald
- Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson
Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson

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By Brian Bowling and Margaret Harding
Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 9:21 a.m.

Emerging from the grand jury room at the federal courthouse Downtown on Wednesday, Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said the investigative body called him and acting Pittsburgh police Chief Regina McDonald to fill in details for an ongoing probe of the city administration.

“This is just kind of tying up loose ends,” he said.

Donaldson and McDonald, who appeared without a lawyer, declined to discuss their testimony, which lasted an hour and 45 minutes.

“Can't tell you anything,” McDonald said. “We're not permitted to talk.”

The chiefs said they are not targets of the investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert Cessar and Lee Karl and FBI agents declined comment.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl later said he had not talked with McDonald or Donaldson and didn't know why they testified. He indicated the investigation stained his administration.

“I wish it wasn't happening, but it's outside of my control,” Ravenstahl said. “I've said I've done nothing wrong, and I stand by that. I think that will come out in the end.”

Summoning top police officials might indicate that the investigation of the police department, at least, is winding down, said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor and a St. Vincent College law professor.

“You never start an investigation with the top people,” he said. “You start with the people who are closer to the ground.”

Donaldson's reference to tying up loose ends “probably has a lot of truth to it,” Antkowiak said.

That doesn't necessarily signal an end to the investigation of the Ravenstahl administration, he said.

Duquesne University law professor Wesley Oliver said the chief and deputy know too much about the city's operations to speculate about their testimony.

“It could be anything,” he said.

David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor, agreed: “Grand jury investigations are secret, so we can only speculate.”

The investigation started with a rigged bid involving computers for police cruisers and spread to the department's handling of a fee businesses pay when hiring off-duty officers.

In recent months, investigators pulled documents and called witnesses close to Ravenstahl, apparently examining his connection to valet parking permits, the Steelers, work done on his home and other areas of his life.

Since May, Ravenstahl's secretary, police bodyguards, other police officials, a former girlfriend and the former chair of the Pittsburgh Stadium Authority testified.

Erin Lynn Feith, his ex-wife, refused to talk to investigators about the mayor, according to her attorney, Casey D. White.

Former police Chief Nate Harper is scheduled to plead guilty on Friday to diverting more than $70,000 of taxpayer money into a private account and spending $31,986 on personal expenses. Harper has no plea bargain with the government.

Ravenstahl met with the FBI in February and then asked for Harper's resignation. He appointed McDonald as acting chief.

Ravenstahl said Friday will be a “dark day” for the city. He said he respects Harper for his long service but that the former chief must atone for his actions.

“He obviously made mistakes, and he will pay for them,” the mayor said.

Brian Bowling and Margaret Harding are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Bowling at 412-325-4301 or Reach Harding at 412-380-8519 or Staff writer Bob Bauder contributed to this report.

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