Grand jury that heard testimony from Ravenstahl aides ends work
A federal grand jury that investigated Pittsburgh government for more than a year expired on Tuesday without publicly filing indictments from testimony it heard from former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's top aides, police bodyguards and female acquaintances — prompting some to speculate any case may be closed.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment. Ravenstahl did not return a call for comment, and a woman at his home in Fineview said he did not want to talk.
“I never thought anything was there,” said attorney Bill Goodrich, a Ravenstahl supporter who said he represented witnesses who testified before the grand jury. “The primary questions and the gist of it had to do with the mayor's personal life with women. That's all the questions I remember hearing about. In our interviews with the FBI, they wanted to know about his private life with women, which I didn't know was a federal offense.”
Goodrich wouldn't say which witnesses he represented who talked to the FBI or grand jury but did say if there is nothing to charge, federal prosecutors should say so, given the public nature of the case.
Hickton announced in January that the probe involving the city wasn't over. The investigation started in March 2013, when a previous federal grand jury indicted former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper for taking city money and failing to file income tax returns.
A former attorney for Harper, Robert Leight, said it doesn't necessarily mean the case is closed, but he added that prosecutors generally try to wrap up cases with one grand jury.
“My instincts tell me it's done. They're not going to learn any more information. The FBI has had more than enough time for the investigation. Clearly they don't believe Ravenstahl's activity rises to criminal activity,” Leight said.
Ravenstahl's attorney, Charles Porter, declined to comment, other than to say his client was not informed he was a target of the investigation and hasn't heard anything from prosecutors.
Ravenstahl indicated in October the investigation stained his administration.
“I wish it wasn't happening, but it's outside of my control,” Ravenstahl said at the time. “I've said I've done nothing wrong, and I stand by that. I think that will come out in the end.”
The grand jury called at least 10 of Ravenstahl's closest professional employees and friends to testify, and investigators subpoenaed city records. Among the witnesses were his chief of staff, Yarone Zober, and bodyguards Dom Sciulli, Matthew Gauntner and Fred Crawford.
Zober declined to comment. Crawford's attorney could not be reached, and attorneys for the other two declined to say what questions their clients were asked.
Gauntner's attorney, Martin Dietz, said typically in cases he's dealt with clients under investigation, a prosecutor will inform him if they opt not to indict.
“As long as they're within the statute of limitations, they could always convene another grand jury,” Dietz said. “That would involve an intense duplication of work. (Convening a second grand jury) would be unusual.”
Among city records the government sifted through were those detailing parking variances, the temporary permits typically granted to companies for valet services or other reasons. Ravenstahl's lawyer has said authorities looked at records of home improvements done at the former mayor's house.
After meeting about two hours on Tuesday morning in secret, the grand jury forewoman handed up three indictments to U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Eddy, one of which was sealed; two others didn't appear to be connected to city business. Grand juries can investigate multiple cases at a time.
Eddy asked the forewoman if the panel's service was over, and she replied that it was.
“I'm very grateful for your service,” Eddy said.
University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris said it's up to Hickton whether to empanel another grand jury or close the case.
“Do most cases wrap up in one grand jury? Yes, but most cases don't require this much investigation. It's anybody's guess. All you can tell is that the case is not as active as it once was. There may be things going on that don't show. If it is over, (Hickton) doesn't have a duty to say. It's really up to him if the public interest requires it.”
Hickton said in January he couldn't provide a timeline for completing the investigation or say whether his office would make an announcement when it ends.
In every probe, “We go through a process of investigation …,” he said then. “We then go through a process of deliberation.”
Part of that deliberation is to determine whether there's anything left to investigate and whether to make an announcement, he said then. Since he took office, the Justice Department announced the close of the investigations into police actions during the arrest of teenager Jordan Miles, the Legionnaires outbreak at the Veterans Administration Pittsburgh Healthcare System and the abuse of inmates at the state correctional facility in Pittsburgh, Hickton said.
In 2006, former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan announced that former Mayor Tom Murphy would not be charged in an investigation into a sweetheart contract he cut with city firefighters in 2001 in exchange for a political endorsement.
Buchanan said criminal prosecution was not the best resolution.
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.