Spending from secret Pittsburgh police credit union accounts mostly undetermined
By Jeremy Boren
Published: Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
A federal indictment against former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper raised as many questions as it answered about $70,629 siphoned into two secret police credit union accounts.
As mayoral candidates on Monday pointed fingers, Robert Del Greco, one of Harper's attorneys, said he doesn't know whether all the money was spent.
He said federal investigators likely scrutinized the spending and listed only transactions that benefited Harper personally in a grand jury report.
“My sense is that (investigators) went through that and said, ‘OK, this is for a seminar for police, yes. Dinner at the LeMont, no,' ” Del Greco said.
Prosecutors accuse Harper, 60, of Stanton Heights of using two debit cards linked to the accounts to spend $31,987 “for his own use” on meals, alcohol, movies, an LCD TV, perfume, gift cards, an oven upgrade and in 23 ATM cash withdrawals — an itemized list they released as a sample of his expenditures.
LeMont in Mt. Washington isn't among restaurants listed, though many other upscale restaurants are.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton declined Friday to explain what happened to the remaining $38,642 in the slush fund Harper is accused of creating to siphon checks and cash payments from bars, restaurants, construction firms and other businesses that hire off-duty officers.
Hickton said the FBI investigation continues.
His office denied a Tribune-Review request for copies of receipts investigators used to make their case against Harper.
Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson ordered a credit union account to be closed early this year. He would not answer questions about it, citing the FBI investigation.
“They have the answers,” Donaldson said.
Del Greco reiterated that Harper plans to plead guilty and likely would testify if the grand jury subpoenas him. The FBI interviewed Harper five times.
“Early on he said that he's the police chief and he's going to tell everything, and he did,” Del Greco said. He said Harper could increase his odds of receiving a lighter sentence for cooperating, but “I don't want to say that's the only reason he did it.”
The five-count indictment, issued 30 days after Mayor Luke Ravenstahl forced Harper to resign, accuses Harper of failing to file tax returns on his six-figure salary for four years and diverting public money into the accounts at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union.
Pittsburgh politicians say they want to know where the money went and whether any remains at the credit union.
“We don't know at this point if the FBI hasn't accounted for it,” said Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, who chairs the public safety committee. “I think it should all be accounted for.”
Kail-Smith said many questions about the credit union accounts surfaced during private meetings she recently held with public safety personnel and city administrators about police bureau and financial reforms.
She said she would ask council Budget Director William Urbanic, Finance Director Scott Kunka, Controller Michael Lamb and Public Safety Director Michael Huss to locate the money. Kunka and Huss could not be reached.
The Trib obtained an account statement that listed $25,176.53 in the account in May 2010. Expenses during that month include two hotel rooms at the Westin in Alexandria, Va., meals at Ming's Restaurant and Bistro Francais in the District of Columbia and the Grandview Saloon in Mt. Washington, and more hotel room stays at Doubletree and Holiday Inn hotels in the Washington area.
None of those expenses appeared in the indictment.
Ravenstahl said one of his police bodyguards, Sgt. Dom Sciulli, used a card connected to the accounts for hotel stays and gas purchases during trips with the mayor.
Council President Darlene Harris said she introduced legislation two weeks ago asking Lamb to study cash management. Harris and Lamb are running for mayor.
Lamb said he ordered auditors to investigate all of the credit union accounts, including one created in 2004.
“We're asking the same questions,” Lamb said. “Our auditors are still in the middle of those audits, and we're going to let them do their job.”
Councilman Bill Peduto, also running for mayor, said the investigation should resolve what happened to the money.
“It's a call to completely redo our revenue management system, not just for police overtime, but for every dollar the city takes in,” he said.
Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, also a mayoral contender, said the police department should not handle payments directly.
“In regards to the other ($38,642), it's impossible for me to figure out where those funds are,” Wagner said. “The most important aspect of this whole issue is, the process is wrong. It doesn't have checks and balances.”
Jeremy Boren is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7935 or email@example.com. Staff Writers Bob Bauder and Bobby Kerlik contributed.
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.
- Landmark former school in Pittsburgh’s Hill District to incubate startups
- Wuerl tells faithful all Catholics are responsible for schools
- Post 9/11 veterans lend skills to community leadership course
- Former PPG executive indicted in fatal N.H. crash
- Wilkinsburg woman, 24, dies in crash
- Democrats consider Pittsburgh for 2016 national convention
- Proposal to drill in West Deer and Frazer draws comments from both sides
- Trial begins in Steelers stabbing
- 4-car crash near Fox Chapel snarls Route 28 traffic
- Change in kidney allocation rules should help patients
- Newsmaker: Leah Pileggi