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Mayor's use of bodyguards differs from other officials

Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
File photo of former Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff from 2007.

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By Bobby Kerlik and Margaret Harding
Saturday, March 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl appears to get more protection than any other government official in Western Pennsylvania.

Ravenstahl's practice of taking police bodyguards with him on personal time — to Steelers games at Heinz Field, to Rivers Casino and bars in the city and North Hills — differs from that of other local government officials.

It costs city taxpayers thousands of dollars in overtime paid to the officers.

Ravenstahl, 33, of Summer Hill said his guards accompany him around town and when he travels for business, but not for personal trips such as vacations. He said he has received threats more than once while in public, although he declined to be specific.

“That's been the practice, and I assume the next mayor will have bodyguards,” he said.

Ravenstahl's bodyguards, Sgts. Dom Sciulli and Matt Gauntner, racked up $192,960 in overtime from 2010 to 2012. The officers, who have declined interview requests, came under scrutiny for their working hours when Ravenstahl revealed they carried debit cards linked to a Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union account that the FBI is investigating.

The FBI is examining, at least in part, how money was funneled into the credit union accounts and how that money was used.

Pittsburgh mayors before Ravenstahl and mayors in other cities utilize bodyguards — though not always when off duty or out of town.

When the late Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor, Ravenstahl's immediate predecessor, went out for an evening with his family, he typically did not take a bodyguard, former police Chief Dom Costa said.

“I encouraged him to always take a bodyguard, but he didn't always listen,” said Costa, a Democratic state representative from Stanton Heights who was chief in 2006. “But if he went out to dinner with his family, no, he didn't have one. If he was going to be at an announced event, he would.”

Police officers sometimes provided security for former Mayor Tom Murphy, 68, of the North Side, though not always on out-of-town trips.

Former Mayor Sophie Masloff said two “fellas” she inherited from the late Mayor Richard Caliguiri worked in shifts to guard her.

“It was necessary for many reasons,” said Masloff, 95, of Squirrel Hill. “If I went anywhere, I needed a driver because I could never find a place to park. It really took two to keep up with me. ... Very often I was inundated with people who had problems or an ax to grind, so I needed people close.”

Taxpayers pay for bodyguards for others in government as well. Security officers act as drivers for the Allegheny County executive and the governor, allowing them to work between events.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who took office in January 2012, typically has one of two county police officers, Scott Moffat or Justin Doyle, drive him during the day. When they are not needed, the officers are assigned to the general investigations unit, spokeswoman Amie Downs said.

In 2012, their overtime totaled about $20,287, she said.

“I don't really use them at night or on weekends. I don't take them out of town. I don't want to incur the cost,” said Fitzgerald, 53, of Point Breeze. “I don't feel unsafe. If there's a big crowd, it's helpful.”

Fitzgerald said he never takes a bodyguard when he goes out to dinner or to evening events with his family.

“Each person has to make that decision,” he said. “People will be critical, one way or the other. We have to use our best judgment.”

Former County Executive Jim Roddey said his county police bodyguards worked shifts — as do Fitzgerald's — and accompanied him during day and evening county-related events.

“(Ravenstahl) is doing personal actions, and if he wants bodyguards for that, he ought to pay for them,” said Roddey, 80, of Oakmont, the Allegheny County Republican Committee chairman. “From an ethical point of view, it's poor judgment. It's poor judgment for police officers to be out in bars to begin with.”

“I wish I had Jim Roddey's money,” Ravenstahl said in response to the assertion that he should pay for his bodyguards after hours.

Ravenstahl denied allegations that he paid for booze with the cards or that bodyguards drove him to late-night partying excursions.

He acknowledged visiting Rivers Casino in the North Side: “That's probably true that I was at the casino after midnight with bodyguards.”

City records indicate that Ravenstahl took bodyguards on out-of-town trips.

Sciulli submitted expenses for three trips to Washington in 2009, once in 2006, and a 2008 trip to Detroit.

In 2009, retired police Sgt. Fred Crawford, who worked as Ravenstahl's bodyguard at the time, submitted expenses of $224.69 and 337.27 for “travel” or “official business” with the mayor.

County Police Superintendent Charles Moffatt, who was superintendent under former Executive Dan Onorato, said he recommends the executive utilize bodyguards because the office has received threats. Onorato, 52, of the North Side, an executive with Highmark Inc., declined to comment.

Before Allegheny County switched to an executive and council in 2000, former county Commissioners Bob Cranmer, Mike Dawida and Larry Dunn used staff members as drivers but rarely relied on police bodyguards.

“In today's times, a lot of people are angry at government, period, or people with an ax to grind, or people that are mentally unstable can be threats,” Moffatt said. “There have been some emailed threats and letters. There was an event where a person tried to get up on the platform while (Onorato) was making a speech.”

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. does not have a bodyguard but occasionally takes a detective to crime scenes. A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney David Hickton would not discuss his security, but Hickton frequently is seen without bodyguards.

Common Pleas judges are protected in the courthouse by county sheriffs but don't have bodyguards after hours. City and County Council members do not have bodyguards.

State police troopers guard Gov. Tom Corbett around-the-clock, said state police spokeswoman Maria Finn.

“It's a dedicated detail who are rotated,” Finn said. “That's the way it's been for years.”

For mayors, security varies.

Police in Austin began keeping an officer close to Mayor Lee Leffingwell in 2011, Cpl. Mike Bowen said.

“Our mayor basically drives himself to and from work, but once he's at work ... one of the guys is with him,” Bowen said. “If he goes to a private party or dinner or something, he doesn't rely on us to get him from point A to point B. We protect the position, not the man.”

Officers travel with the mayor in Texas but not out of state. They do accumulate overtime, Bowen said.

In Cleveland, three detectives rotate shifts to guard Mayor Frank G. Jackson, and an on-duty officer monitors his home day and night, spokeswoman Maureen Harper said. The officers don't travel with Jackson when he flies out of town but do drive him to other Ohio cities, she said.

“We believe it's a responsibility to protect the mayor,” Harper said.

Bobby Kerlik and Margaret Hardingare Trib Total Media staff writers.Reach Kerlik at 412-320-7886or bkerlik@tribweb.com.Reach Harding at 412-380-8519or mharding@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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