Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb told of account trouble 3 months ago
City Controller Michael Lamb knew three months ago that Pittsburgh police officers suspected problems with accounting of money at the center of an FBI investigation.
But Lamb said Monday his office didn't immediately begin auditing the special events office when a police union official contacted him because auditors were busy. Auditors instead looked at the police records room because of a department theft, Lamb said, delaying the audit of money paid for moonlighting officers until two weeks ago. By then, FBI agents had seized records from police headquarters.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office blames Lamb for not auditing police accounts sooner. Finance Director Scott Kunka said the controller's office, before Lamb's election, set up the system used to account for moonlighting cash.
“I think to suggest that I should have known about an account that was set up specifically for the purposes of keeping it secret from me is a stretch,” said Lamb, who is running for mayor.
Businesses wanting police security pay the city for officers' wages amounting to about $40 per hour, plus an administrative fee of $3.85 per hour.
The fees could total as much as $4.2 million over the past six years, Acting Chief Regina McDonald has said.
Officer Bob Swartzwelder of the Fraternal Order of Police Labor-Management Committee said the union contacted Lamb in November about money paid to moonlighting officers.
“Essentially, we were on a fact-finding mission at that time,” Swartzwelder said.
Lamb said his office asked questions in December of police administrators, though he didn't know who, in the personnel and finance office. The manager of that office, Sandy Ganster, met with the U.S. Attorney's office this month.
The FBI is looking into whether any of that money landed in unauthorized accounts at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union for police use on trips, at restaurants and at hotels. The investigation led to the ouster of Chief Nate Harper. He has not been charged with any crime.
Lamb said his office, which has six financial auditors, could not audit special events until it investigated the theft from the police bureau's Central Records Reporting Unit. Former clerk Terri Randolph, 48, of Bon Air is awaiting trial for theft of $17,000.
Ravenstahl and Public Safety Director Michael Huss, who oversee the police department, deny they knew about the special accounts, even though police brass and Ravenstahl's bodyguards carried debit cards drawn from the credit union.
Ravenstahl has hired former Washington County District Attorney Steven Toprani to independently review police policies governing officers moonlighting or forming side businesses. City officials cannot say what that review will cost taxpayers.
Toprani met on Monday with Solicitor Dan Regan to determine his price and a timeline for the job, Regan said.
Toprani couldn't be reached for comment. His review won't include credit union accounts the FBI is investigating, Regan said.
“We don't want to interfere in any way with that investigation,” he said.
Regan said he doesn't know if the accounts are in individuals' names or were opened in the name of the Police Bureau or one of its offices. The difference could be significant since banking secrecy laws would limit the credit union's ability to discuss individual accounts absent a subpoena or warrant.
Regan would not say what the city learned from the partial records it has, including names associated with the account.
“We're hearing a lot of things,” Regan said. “I think it's important that we be diligent and we only try to make decisions based on what we know.”
Another officer said that rank-and-file police in 2011 suspected someone inside special events was directing choice details to friends. Officer Jesse Riddile said he set up a website parodying the office, referring to the “Detail Mafia.”
“It was a joke,” he said. “There were rumors something was going on in special events and we were making fun of it.”
Staff writers Margaret Harding, Bob Kerlik and Brian Bowling contributed. Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Deliberations begin in party bus shooting in Sheraden
- Man charged in child rape case from 2014 arrested again
- North Fayette company changes defendants in Antonio Brown endorsement lawsuit
- Sinkhole caused by mine subsidence closes Laketon Road in Penn Hills
- Body from Ohio River may be link to missing Pittsburgh man Kochu
- Wilkinsburg state deputy constable charged with official oppression
- North Side blogger pushes herself for a cause
- Lawrenceville man will stand trial on ‘revenge porn’ charges
- Forest Hills picks new mayor for rest of year
- Pittsburgh police release photo of alleged cash snatcher
- Ex-Gov. Ridge: Hacking group’s kill list only a scare tactic