Ex-aide: Former Pittsburgh police chief Harper played favorites
As Pittsburgh police chief, Nate Harper granted access to extra parking spaces to help his friend's valet parking business, a former police official told the Tribune-Review.
Former Assistant Chief William Bochter said his office handled all requests for valet parking variances — except when they involved Robert Gigliotti, the politically active owner of Tri State Valet Inc. in Green Tree and one of Pittsburgh's major valet parking operators.
Gigliotti's requests detoured through Harper's office, Bochter said on Monday.
“I would recommend two, three or four parking spaces, and he would add more,” said Bochter, who retired in 2011. “I know they had a friendly relationship. I'm not saying there was anything wrong with having friends. It would seem to have gotten favoritism.”
Robert Del Greco, Harper's attorney, declined to comment, as did Gigliotti.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl forced Harper to resign on Feb. 20. Federal prosecutors indicted Harper a month later on charges he misappropriated more than $70,000 in public money and failed to file four years' worth of tax returns.
Ravenstahl's office declined to comment.
Bochter said Harper did not share his reasons for changing Gigliotti's variances. Officer Tonya Montgomery-Ford, Bochter's clerk who also reported to Harper, marked “U.P.” for “under protest” on some of Gigliotti's valet parking variances to indicate they were altered.
“That was Tonya's way to alert me that the chief had reviewed it or changed,” Bochter said.
Acting Chief Regina McDonald suspended Montgomery-Ford and three civilian office workers amid the federal investigation that led to the charges against Harper.
Gigliotti's former business partner, Rich Nerone, said Gigliotti's father, Tony, was a city police officer who worked with Harper.
Gigliotti, 46, of Banksville, formerly worked in the Pittsburgh Public Works Department, Nerone said. His wife, Linda Gigliotti, is a city police officer.
Nerone, 45, of Brookline, operates Pittsburgh Valet Co.
“Through the Le Mont, Robbie is very politically connected,” Nerone said.
Le Mont Restaurant in Mt. Washington is the scene of many political fundraisers, including some for Ravenstahl. The Allegheny County Democratic Committee lists Gigliotti as a member in the city's 20th Ward. Nerone said he and Gigliotti started parking cars at Le Mont in their late teens.
Le Mont owner Ed Dunlap, chairman and CEO of Canonsburg roofing company Centimark Corp., declined to comment.
Nerone said police do not grant his company more than three parking spaces to provide valet services. Tri State got six spaces in Market Square for months, which drew complaints.
“If those types of things are happening, it's an unfair advantage for him,” Nerone said. “I just need an even playing field just to be able to compete.”
Bochter said he worked with Councilman Bruce Kraus to craft rules governing valet parking in 2008 because of complaints about valet services on the South Side hogging spots to provide pick-up and drop-off zones.
Kraus acknowledged the discussion with Bochter but declined to comment.
Pittsburgh provides valet parking variance permits to private companies for free. Philadelphia recently raised the yearly fee for reserving valet curb spots for four nights a week from $250 to $2,500.
Visitors to Market Square complained that Tri State employees erroneously told them they had to use valet parking in the square. Market Square Merchants Association officials said Tri State monopolized on-street spaces instead of paying to use a designated garage.
“As far as Tri State is concerned, we are sticking with them as our valet company,” said Michael Mitcham, general manager of Primanti Brothers and a member of the merchants association. “They are disciplining their employees internally for incorrectly parking vehicles.”
Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.