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Pittsburgh's policy for off-duty police work evolved over past decade, ex-sergeant says

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Thursday, March 14, 2013, 11:35 p.m.
 

Joe Paieski kept booking moonlighting gigs for fellow police officers nearly two years after he retired as a police sergeant in 2003, ending a 35-year career.

Paieski, 67, of North Fayette said few rules governed off-duty assignments a decade ago, and money that officers and schedulers such as Paieski made was modest compared to the six-figure sums that some officers get these days.

“I charged a lot less then. Officers just made their regular (wage) back then,” said Paieski, one of several former officers who recalls how the police department's handling of moonlighting assignments evolved into current practice.

Paieski's superiors told him he couldn't hire officers to work at bars or strip clubs. That would reflect poorly on the department's reputation, they told him.

Most officers worked extra assignments at construction sites, in traffic control, or at sporting events at Three Rivers Stadium and the Civic Arena.

They generally earned their regular, hourly wage instead of the time-and-a-half standard now, which can be $40 an hour.

In 2005, Paieski said, “Assistant Chief (Regina) McDonald told me I couldn't run it anymore. She said since I was retired that I had to get out of it. I understand they sent letters out that said don't use the Paieski Corporation anymore. So they kind of pushed me out.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl named McDonald acting chief on Feb. 20, when he forced former Chief Nate Harper to resign. The FBI is investigating how money — perhaps tens of thousands of dollars — was diverted from the police department's Special Events Office, which now handles off-duty assignments, into a secret account at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union in Elliott.

McDonald declined an interview request, but she addressed changes to off-duty employment policies and whether retired officers could arrange such work.

“No, that is a violation of bureau policy and procedure,” McDonald wrote in an email. “Schedulers must be current law enforcement officers.”

In a change since the scandal broke, the department again banned officers from working at strip clubs but permits them at bars.

McDonald said the department is reviewing its secondary employment policy and will seek insight from Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1.

Harper has spurned interview requests since his ouster.

Paieski split his 10 percent fee on security details with business partner George Roeschenthaler, 68, of Whitehall, who retired in 2000 after 30 years on the force. Paieski said some construction firms paid officers directly; others preferred to write him a check. He distributed the money and provided officers 1099 tax forms.

Roeschenthaler, Paieski and other retired or former officers said the turning point in how the police department handled off-duty jobs occurred in 2002 and 2003.

An $84 million repair project forced the inbound, and later the outbound, lanes of the Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnel to close for months.

Rush-hour traffic snarled and dozens of officers stepped in off-duty to redirect traffic, many managed by Paieski. Since the project was federally funded, officers earned 1.5 times their hourly wage.

“By that time, I was just getting out,” Paieski said.

Cars hit some officers directing traffic, prompting police officials to consider instituting an hourly fee to cover compensation claims and litigation expenses. In the process, restrictions on allowing uniformed officers to work outside bars and strip clubs disappeared, greatly increasing the number of businesses that could hire them.

“I knew that whenever they're making that much money, something had to happen,” Roeschenthaler said. “I worked details back when they were cash. At St. Boniface Church, if you'd help get people out after Mass, the priest would give you a $20. Or some guy in the parking lot at Three Rivers Stadium would give you a $20.

“I know today you couldn't get a cop to work for a $20 bill.”

In 2004, after the Fort Pitt Bridge work was completed, then-Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr. and other police officials created policies that allowed the city to manage off-duty work.

In response, Officers Martin Link and Daniel Novak, operators of L&N Security Inc., which arranged off-duty assignments, sued the city, contending the restrictions eliminated their business by requiring employers to go through the Special Events Office, which would collect a 10 percent fee. City attorneys successfully argued that Link and Novak didn't have a right to schedule officers for traffic control.

L&N Security Inc. is one of four companies connected to city police officers that investigators in Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office are reviewing to determine whether Pittsburgh officers should have private detective licenses.

Link could not be reached for comment; nor could Novak, now an officer in Monroeville.

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or jboren@tribweb.com.

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