Spending from secret Pittsburgh police credit union accounts mostly undetermined

Jeremy Boren
| 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 jboren@tribweb.com. Staff Writers Bob Bauder and Bobby Kerlik contributed.

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