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Former Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper paid for table at Boy Scout gala

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By Jeremy Boren and Margaret Harding
Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

City officials want to know if former Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper used secret credit union accounts to pay for a table at a Boy Scout gala or to pay off the debt on a slain officer's Chevy Trailblazer.

Harper, whom Mayor Luke Ravenstahl ousted last week because of a federal investigation into those accounts, paid for at least one table of guests at the 2011 Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award Dinner, an event organized by the Greater Pittsburgh Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Naudain Radcliff, field director at Boy Scouts of America, said Monday the table likely cost between $500 and $1,000 to reserve, but attendees donated up to $5,000 to participate.

“I would have remembered if it was $5,000, because there were only a few of those,” he said.

Scout executive Michael Surbaugh declined to provide details about Harper's contribution.

Harper's attorney, Robert Del Greco, could not be reached.

Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the city has “no record of an authorized payment” for the dinner.

“That's crazy. We can't just pay for something like that,” said Public Safety Director Michael Huss, the chief's supervisor. “Maybe he paid for it himself, or it came from some other account. Who knows?”

City Solicitor Dan Regan said Harper won permission in 2009 to pay off the debt on the SUV Officer Eric Kelly drove when a Stanton Heights man fatally shot him and two other officers. Kelly's vehicle, damaged by bullets, remains in city storage.

“I said absolutely. I think the city would be liable for that cost,” Regan said.

City records show no payments, though.

The money did not come from the Fallen Heroes Fund, cash collected for the benefit of the three slain officers which was housed at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union, according to Officer Dan O'Hara, a former union president who helped oversee the money. O'Hara said he spoke to Harper about the vehicle.

“He told me he would help to get that taken care of,” O'Hara said.

Kelly's widow, Marena Kelly, could not be reached.

City solicitor Dan Regan said he doesn't know whether the accounts were set up in people's names or in the name of the Police Bureau. The difference could be significant, becasue banking secrecy laws would limit the credit union's ability to discuss individuals' accounts absent a subpoena or warrant.

He said police headquarters had no paper copies of statements.

The federal Electronic Funds Transfer Act requires financial institutions to provide customers with at least quarterly statements on accounts that can be accessed by electronic transfers, which would include debit cards, and requires them to provide monthly statements if the account has had a transfer within the past month.

Ravenstahl acknowledged that one of his guards, Sgt. Dom Sciulli, used his debit card to pay for expenses while traveling with the mayor.

“I have no reason to believe that they would have statements,” Regan said about Sciulli and fellow guard Sgt. Matt Gauntner. He would not say why the city won't tell those with cards to ask for account records.

Ravenstahl said Harper gave the cards to the officers.

Harper was among the honorees at the annual Boy Scout gala held in the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District to recognize supporters.

Joining at his table were five police employees integral to the federal investigation: Cmdr. Eric Holmes, Officer Tonya Montgomery-Ford, Sgt. Barry Budd and civilian clerks Tammy Davis and Kim Montgomery, who is Ford's mother.

Four of them started a consulting business with Harper that drew criticism from Ravenstahl.

Acting police Chief Regina McDonald last week suspended Ford, Montgomery and Davis.

Through a spokesman, Montgomery-Ford said she doesn't know how Harper paid for the table.

“She did go as a guest of the chief and enjoyed herself,” spokesman Warner Macklin III said. Davis and Montgomery could not be reached.

Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said she attended the dinner. She said she doesn't know how the chief paid and didn't know about the credit union account.

Staff writer Brian Bowling contributed to this report. Jeremy Boren and Margaret Harding are staff writers for Trib Total Media.

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