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Pittsburgh police chief's possible role in shell company probed by grand jury

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 6:41 a.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper will plead guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion charges on Oct. 18, according to a judge’s order issued on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013.

A federal grand jury is investigating whether Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper played a role in awarding a city contract to a shell company that a friend set up.

The investigation is related to the prosecution of Arthur J. Bedway, 63, of Robinson, the owner of Carnegie-based Victory Security.

In November, federal prosecutors accused Bedway of conspiring with a former city employee and unidentified others to set up a company, Alpha Outfitters, to win a contract to install computers in police vehicles.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton declined to answer questions about the case.

Harper, 59, of Stanton Heights has not been charged. He could not be reached for comment. Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said Harper “doesn't know what you're referring to” when asked about the investigation.

He has said the police bureau “had no involvement in securing this contract or making any payments.”

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl appointed Harper as chief in October 2006. He joined the department in 1977 and is set to make $105,000 this year. Harper reports to Public Safety Director Mike Huss, who declined to comment.

Joanna Doven, a spokeswoman for Ravenstahl, also declined to comment.

Harper has described Bedway as a former friend. The chief said his wife, Cynthia Harper, 58, once worked as a consultant with Kathleen Bowman, co-owner of Victory Security.

Bowman, 61, of Robinson couldn't be reached. Bowman's attorney, Charles Porter, declined to comment.

Attorney Martin Dietz, Bedway's lawyer, declined to comment. Bedway could not be reached.

Christine Kebr, 56, of Castle Shannon, a former senior systems analyst for the city, pleaded guilty on Dec. 6 to conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing. She could not be reached. Her attorney, Gary Gerson, did not return calls.

The city paid more than $327,000 to Alpha Outfitters between 2007 and 2009 for work done on police vehicles, according to federal prosecutors. A grand jury charged Bedway with bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud, saying he and Kebr conspired in 2006 with others to form Alpha Outfitters as if it were a female-owned business so he could bid on a contract.

Kebr worked for the city's information systems department from October 2001 until she resigned in July 2011. Her salary was $60,592.

Her supervisor, Howard Stern, said investigators talked to him, but he thought it ended with Kebr's guilty plea.

“All I know about it is what I've read in the papers and seen on TV,” said Stern, who retired in May.

According to the indictment, Bedway told Kebr he was creating Alpha Outfitters, with a “straw owner,” to bid for the contract. They began meeting in 2007 to draft a bid.

Kebr took part in reviewing the bid for the city in July 2007 and recommended accepting it, the indictment states. After the city accepted the bid, Bedway paid Kebr $3,000 in cash for her assistance.

City Finance Director Scott Kunka signed the contract. He did not return a call for comment.

Council in 2006 authorized spending the money for the Alpha Outfitters contract but did not approve the contract, according to Controller Michael Lamb. Council passed legislation authorizing Kunka or the director of General Services to award contracts for certain services.

The Alpha Outfitters bid and contract listed Lois Kolarik as the contact person for the company.

“I have no comment,” said Kolarik, 61, of Sheraden. Her attorney, Stephen Stallings, declined comment.

The Pennsylvania Department of State lists Alpha Outfitters as an active company.

The Pittsburgh Housing Authority in August terminated a $3.7 million contract with Victory Security for failing to consistently provide security at housing complexes.

Staff writers Brian Bowling and Bob Bauder contributed to this report. Bobby Kerlik and Margaret Harding are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Kerlik can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com. Harding can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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