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Pittsburgh may spend $120K to examine how former police chief may have siphoned $70K

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 12:03 a.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper will plead guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion charges on Oct. 18, according to a judge’s order issued on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013.

Taxpayers could shell out at least $120,000 to figure out how indicted former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper might have misappropriated about $70,000.

The money will go to consultants, though, and not to lawyers that several employees including Mayor Luke Ravenstahl have hired, city officials said Tuesday.

Ravenstahl wants to pay former Washington County District Attorney Steven Toprani up to $10,000 to review policies governing officers who moonlight for or own businesses not regulated by the department.

City Council and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, the city's state-appointed financial overseer, in recent weeks authorized spending $20,000 and $90,000, respectively, on looking into the city's cash management procedures.

City Council directed Controller Michael Lamb to review the same procedures.

“We just want to make sure that the taxpayers' money is going where the taxpayers think it's going,” said Council President Darlene Harris, a Spring Hill Democrat.

The ICA authorized up to $90,000 because talks with city financial managers and Lamb's office revealed a lack of controls, ICA Chairman Dana Yealy said.

Federal authorities last month charged Harper, 60, of Stanton Heights with siphoning $70,000 in city money into secret accounts at a credit union and spending $31,000 of it on himself. His lawyers say he will plead guilty to that and to failing to file tax returns for four years.

“Everybody is sharing this concern that there could be others,” Yealy said.

The ICA's money will go to Gleason and Associates and could prompt more spending on a second study to come up with recommendations based on the first study, Yealy said.

City Solicitor Dan Regan said it's impossible to say whether Toprani's investigation could cost taxpayers more.

“We can only answer that question once he's conducted his review,” Regan said.

Money for the ICA-commissioned study likely will come from casino taxes controlled by the ICA but owed to the city. Harris said the city might have been able to use that money.

“If they'd like to give me $90,000, I'm sure I could put it to good use,” Harris said.

Ravenstahl's office did not return calls. Ravenstahl, who announced last month that he would not seek re-election, forced Harper to resign Feb. 20. Ravenstahl has stressed he is not a target of the FBI investigation of Harper, but he hired a criminal defense attorney to represent him during an FBI interview that prompted him to oust Harper.

Ravenstahl said he is paying for his own lawyer.

Regan said he's not aware of any payments the city has made to defray the legal costs of four suspended police employees or police Cmdr. Eric Holmes, who hired a lawyer amid questions about his involvement in a business venture with Harper.

The employees on paid suspension are Officer Tonya Montgomery-Ford, 43, of New Homestead; her mother and police clerk Kim Montgomery, 60, of the Hill District; Tamara Davis, 46, of the Hill District; and police Finance Director Sandra Ganster, 57, of Overbrook.

Each hired personal attorneys. Three of the women are represented by a crisis management consultant who has spoken to the media on their behalf.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, who chairs council's Public Safety Committee, said the city has provided legal counsel for public safety employees sued for incidents that occurred in the line of duty, but taxpayers shouldn't pick up the tab for those under federal investigation, she said.

“If a police officer or firefighter got accused of drinking and driving, we wouldn't defend them,” Kail-Smith said. “I think we need to find out if they're guilty of any wrongdoing. Why should city taxpayers pay for that if they did something wrong? I think if they're found innocent, maybe we can talk about some reimbursement.”

Staff writer Bob Bauder contributed to this story. Jeremy Boren and Mike Wereschagin are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Boren can be reached at 412-320-7935 or jboren@tribweb.com. Wereschagin can be reached at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com.

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