FBI asks Pittsburgh police about seized vehicles
By Margaret Harding
Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
FBI agents asked Pittsburgh police about their use of vehicles seized during criminal investigations, an official said on Wednesday.
Former Chief Nate Harper used one of those vehicles because his city-issued sedan did not work well in the winter, an assistant chief said.
“They were just touching base with us, asking questions to make sure we're adhering to the policy,” narcotics Sgt. Mike Tracy said about a conversation with Pittsburgh FBI agents about a month ago. “As we call it, a ‘knock and talk' to discuss different things, and that was it.”
Tracy, who oversees the department's use of the vehicles, declined to say if the agents asked about Harper.
A federal grand jury on March 22 indicted Harper, 60, of Stanton Heights on charges of failing to file his taxes and spending more than $30,000 from secret Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union accounts on personal expenses.
The FBI declined to comment. U.S. Attorney David Hickton has said the investigation into use of the money continues.
Harper, who resigned on Feb. 20, began using a seized GMC Yukon in December as his take-home vehicle instead of his city-issued Chevrolet Impala, Assistant Chief George Trosky said.
Harper could not be reached for comment. Robert Del Greco, an attorney representing Harper, said he was not authorized to speak on his behalf.
Tracy said Pittsburgh police take part in the Department of Justice equitable sharing program, which distributes forfeited property to state and local agencies that participate in an investigation or prosecution that leads to federal forfeiture. A DOJ spokesperson did not return messages seeking comment.
Trosky would not say how many vehicles the city obtained through the program. Commanders and chiefs are allowed city-issued take-home vehicles, not the confiscated cars, he said.
“You would normally use your assigned vehicle, but (Harper) was having trouble with his assigned vehicle,” Trosky said.
Narcotics and vice detectives use the vehicles for undercover operations, but other detectives may use them for investigations with permission, Trosky said.
“The way I understand it is we can use these vehicles for anything that's police-related,” Trosky said. “If (Harper) was bringing it from home to work, it's fine.”
The chief's use of the Yukon was for law enforcement purposes, Tracy said. It has since been reassigned in the unit, he said.
“He worked 24/7,” Tracy said. “With any chief, they're on-call all the time.”
City Public Safety Director Mike Huss referred questions to acting Chief Regina McDonald.
McDonald said questions arose after City Controller Michael Lamb released an audit of the confiscated narcotics proceeds fund this year, but “the FBI had nothing to do with it.”
“We were following the federal guidelines,” McDonald said.
Trosky said Harper planned to begin using a new city-owned vehicle when it was ready for him, but he never got the chance. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl forced Harper to resign, citing the FBI's investigation into the department's use of money from a $3.85-per-hour fee it collects from businesses that hire officers who work off-duty details.
Federal authorities say Harper diverted $70,000 of that money into secret accounts at the credit union and spent $31,000 of it on himself. His attorneys say he will plead guilty to that and to failing to file tax returns for four years.
Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or email@example.com.
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.
- Redistricting spurs faceoff for Democratic state Reps. Molchany, Readshaw
- Job cuts at AGH part of ‘strategic’ process
- Ex-Sandusky lawyer investigated in divorce case
- Assessment appeals draw Mt. Lebanon residents’ ire
- Fox Chapel Area superintendent seeks rapport with students
- Allegheny County Democrats endorse several incumbents in primary
- Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to hold annual public meeting March 26
- Donor name to be stripped from Penn Hills library
- Newsmaker: Dr. Kyle Soltys
- Context key to 2nd trial of Pittsburgh police officers in Homewood man’s arrest
- Parking tickets in Downtown Pittsburgh spark outrage