Mayor Ravenstahl's late nights take toll on taxpayers' wallets
By Bobby Kerlik and Margaret Harding
Published: Saturday, June 29, 2013, 9:40 p.m.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's penchant for the nightlife kept taxpayer-paid police bodyguards out with him later than 11 p.m. at least 120 times since he took office and even as late as 3:30 a.m., records show.
The Tribune-Review examined more than 1,500 overtime cards for Sgts. Dom Sciulli and Matt Gauntner and retired Detective Fred Crawford, dating from Ravenstahl's early days in office when he became mayor on Sept. 1, 2006, to April 2013.
The cards show Ravenstahl, 33, of Fineview habitually stays out — sometimes for things such as his birthday, Fat Tuesday and St. Patrick's Day — while the public picks up the tab for police to watch over him.
The overtime cards don't indicate the cost, but payroll records show Gauntner made $101,207 in overtime pay from 2010 through 2012 on top of his base salary of $72,985. Sciulli made $91,753 in overtime and a $67,330 base salary. Not all of that overtime pay was for late nights.
Ravenstahl's attorney Charles Porter has said the mayor never tried to hide his nights out and that it's no crime for a single man his age to stay out late.
“It's not any different than ... the state police guarding Gov. (Tom) Corbett while he has a drink,” Porter said last week.
“It's important because of the perception of what he might be doing late at night. That in itself carries a bad rap or negative connotation for a public official. Why create an issue unnecessarily?” said Jerry Shuster, professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Certainly, he has the freedom to do what he wants, like us. But we're not mayors of a city and don't live in a glass bowl, where you're constantly being judged by your behavior. At the very least, it ought not to be costing the city.”
Officials have said other mayors typically did not utilize bodyguards after working hours.
A piece of the puzzle
The Trib reported last week that the bodyguards' time cards showed a pattern of omissions. Crawford's attorney, Robert Stewart, said Ravenstahl directed them to leave times blank to conceal his late nights. Ravenstahl denies that.
Crawford spent more than two hours testifying to a federal grand jury last week. Sciulli and Gauntner testified on May 8.
The federal grand jury investigation appears to have moved from examining a rigged bid for a police contract to questions about overtime and spending from police slush funds. Ravenstahl and Porter have said investigators have not told the mayor he's a target.
Legal experts said incomplete time cards and late nights don't necessarily translate into a federal crime but likely are part of a larger investigation, or one piece of an investigative puzzle.
“The problem for prosecutors is, how do you prove that transcends into criminal acts? Political fallout is one thing; criminal liability is another,” said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor and director of the criminology and law program at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.
Defense attorney Caroline Roberto, who is not affiliated with the case, agreed.
“If there's no policy he's violating, the government would have a pretty thin argument,” Roberto said.
Shuster's assessment is more simplistic: “He's just plain not using good judgment. He's created an aura of a bad-boy image and that he's immature.”
Among the Trib's findings are that bodyguards began omitting the time of day they spent guarding Ravenstahl in January 2008. They routinely wrote the information on more than 300 timecards in 2006 and 2007. The omissions continued on more than 1,000 timecards until Acting Chief Regina McDonald took over in February. Cards bearing her signature contained complete times and dates.
McDonald has continued having bodyguards accompany the mayor after working hours.
“The mayor's safety is one of my primary responsibilities,” McDonald said.
The risk of burnout
Most employees working 40-hour weeks, as Pittsburgh police do, work 2,080 hours in a year's time.
Without times for overtime shifts noted on most of the cards, it's unclear when Ravenstahl's bodyguards worked. But on about 350 cards they filled out completely, about one-third of the shifts ended at 11 p.m. or later.
“From a management perspective, if you had four to five guys on the detail instead of two to three, you could cut down on the overtime. It's kind of a waste of money when you could simply assign more people to the detail,” said George Dougherty, a Pitt public administration and policy expert.
“I worry more about the burnout side. We know money is a short-term motivator, but after a while you're just tired.”
On Nov. 22, 2006, the night before Thanksgiving, Crawford logged seven hours of overtime working until 3 a.m. on the holiday. On New Year's Eve 2006, Sciulli logged 5.5 hours of overtime, finishing at 1:30 a.m. That kicked off a late-night month. That January, bodyguards stayed out until 11 p.m. or later 10 more times.
On Ravenstahl's 27th birthday, Feb. 6, 2007, which fell on a Tuesday, Crawford logged six hours of overtime, working until 2 a.m. The next night, Sciulli logged 7.5 hours of overtime, ending his shift at 11:30 p.m.
Other late nights don't appear to be connected to potential celebrations. Both Crawford and Sciulli marked that they worked seven hours of overtime until 3 a.m. on March 24, 2007, a Saturday.
In December 2007 — the month before the bodyguards stopped reporting times — they marked 11 p.m. or later five times, including one week in which Gauntner reported staying out until midnight on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Memorable OT shifts
In December 2012, the bodyguards earned 116.75 hours of overtime. Sciulli or Gauntner worked beyond regularly scheduled hours 20 days that month, including a 5.5-hour overtime shift Sciulli worked on Christmas Eve and four extra hours Gauntner worked on New Year's Eve.
When a blizzard paralyzed the city in February 2010, Ravenstahl was celebrating his 30th birthday at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, about an hour's drive from Pittsburgh. Ravenstahl left Friday, Feb. 5, and returned two days later. Gauntner racked up eights hours of overtime that Friday, 16 hours on Saturday and 16 hours on Sunday, time cards show, although they list no times.
When the bodyguards started marking the times they worked in February, late nights showed up again.
The day federal agents removed boxes from Pittsburgh police headquarters, Feb. 12, 2013 — also Fat Tuesday — turned into a long night for Gauntner, who earned eight hours of overtime guarding the mayor until midnight. He was with the mayor on Feb. 20, when Ravenstahl demanded former police Chief Nate Harper's resignation. That day, Gauntner earned seven hours of overtime from 4 to 11 p.m.
Long overtime shifts didn't always mean late nights.
It took both bodyguards — working on their days off — to keep Ravenstahl safe during St. Patrick's Day celebrations this year. On March 16, Gauntner and Sciulli worked overtime, 8.5 and 10.5 hours, respectively, on a mayor's protection detail. The day ended at 5:30 p.m. for Gauntner and 6:30 p.m. for Sciulli.
R. Paul McCauley, professor of criminology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said Pittsburgh needs to set guidelines for executive protection.
“If there are no rules, you get what you get,” McCauley said.
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