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Grand jury investigating Pittsburgh police Chief Harper meets with indicted businessman

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 12:03 a.m.

A businessman, under federal indictment on charges he set up a shell company to win a Pittsburgh contract to install computers in police cars, and a city police sergeant spent part of Tuesday behind closed doors with a grand jury investigating police Chief Nate Harper.

“That suggests there's some possibility at least that he's cooperating with the investigation,” University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said about Art Bedway's appearance before the grand jury.

Bedway, 63, of Robinson walked into the grand jury office in the federal courthouse, Downtown, at about 9:45 a.m. and left just before noon. He and his attorney, Martin Dietz, declined comment.

Robert Cindrich, a former U.S. attorney and former federal judge, said it's unlikely a prosecutor would subpoena someone under indictment unless the two sides worked out a deal. A court docket entry connected to a Jan. 10 status conference states Bedway and prosecutors “are in discussions regarding a potential plea agreement.”

“The only way I can see that it can possibly make any sense is that he's cut a deal …,” he said. “There's just no way you could subpoena them unless you've worked it out with their counsel.”

Federal prosecutors in November accused Bedway of conspiring with former city employee Christine Kebr and unidentified others to set up a company, Alpha Outfitters, to win the installation contract. The grand jury is investigating whether Harper, 59, of Stanton Heights was involved.

Harper, who has not been charged, has said the police bureau “had no involvement in securing this contract or making any payments.” He declined comment on Tuesday through police spokeswoman Diane Richard.

Bedway's appearance followed that of Sgt. Gordon McDaniel, who oversees the police vehicle fleet. He and attorney James Wymard arrived about 9 a.m. and left about 9:40. They declined comment.

Harper has described Bedway as a former friend. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl last week said Harper assured him he's innocent of any wrongdoing. Ravenstahl said he intends to keep him on the job through the investigation.

A Ravenstahl spokeswoman declined comment, as did a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney David Hickton. Grand jury investigations are secret.

The chief has said his wife, Cynthia Harper, 58, once worked as a consultant with Kathleen Bowman. State records list Bowman as the president of Victory Security. Prosecutors say Bedway controls the Carnegie-based firm.

Bowman's attorney, Charles Porter, declined comment.

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, 56, of Castle Shannon, a former senior systems analyst for the city, resigned in July 2011 and pleaded guilty on Dec. 6 to conspiracy. She is awaiting sentencing and could not be reached. Her attorney, Gary Gerson, did not return calls.

Staff writers Bob Bauder and Margaret Harding contributed to this report. Bobby Kerlik and Brian Bowling are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Kerlik can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com. Bowling can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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