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Pittsburgh police chief to stay on job amid investigation

| Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says police Chief Nate Harper, the subject of a federal investigation involving a city contract, assured him he is innocent of wrongdoing.

“We had a discussion about it, and certainly the chief is very much of the belief that he's done nothing wrong,” Ravenstahl said Thursday. “At this point, it's business as usual. I believe the chief has done a great job. He has my full confidence.”

The Tribune-Review reported Thursday that a grand jury is investigating whether Harper was involved in awarding a contract to a shell company that one-time friend Art Bedway set up. Bedway, 63, of Robinson owns Carnegie-based Victory Security. In November, federal prosecutors accused Bedway of conspiring with a former city employee and unidentified others to set up Alpha Outfitters to win a contract to install computers in police vehicles.

Harper, 59, of Stanton Heights has not been charged. Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said he had no comment.

Ravenstahl and members of City Council said news of the investigation surprised them. Ravenstahl said federal investigators have not contacted his office.

“If something further happens, we'll react to it,” he said. “Until that happens, (Harper) will continue doing his job as the chief.”

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney David Hickton declined to comment.

Theresa Kail-Smith, who chairs City Council's Public Safety Committee, said council cannot draw conclusions until members know the results of the investigation.

“We certainly hope there's nothing to this,” she said.

Several officials were reluctant to talk about the investigation.

“It's unclear to me what he's being investigated for,” said City Controller Michael Lamb of Mt. Washington, a frequent critic of the administration and a Democratic candidate for mayor.

Jerry Shuster, a professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh, said elected officials are likely choosing their words and actions carefully.

“In Ravenstahl's case he's damned if he does something and damned if he doesn't. Harper hasn't (been charged), but in this day and age, an investigation automatically presumes guilt,” Shuster said. “If he steps down, it looks like there's something to it. The grand jury can go on for a long time. How fair and legal would it be for the mayor to do something? Because he's being investigated doesn't mean he's guilty.”

Ravenstahl appointed Harper as chief in October 2006. He joined the department in 1977 and is set to make $105,000 this year.

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.

Attorney Martin Dietz, Bedway‘s lawyer, declined to comment.

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. 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.

According to the indictment, Bedway told Kebr he was creating Alpha Outfitters, with a “straw owner,” to bid for the contract. Kebr took part in reviewing the bid for the city in July 2007 and recommended accepting it, the indictment states.

Margaret Harding and Brian Bowling contributed to this report. Bob Bauder and Bobby Kerlik are staff writers for Trib Total Media.

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