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Suspended 8 months ago, 4 Pittsburgh police employees remain off job

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By Margaret Harding
Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Four Pittsburgh police employees have been on paid leave for eight months, and their representatives said Wednesday they still don't know why.

“Only in America,” said attorney Bill Difenderfer, who represents Sandy Ganster. “They're paying a lot of people not to work. There's no reason for them to not work. She's ready, willing and able to work.”

Acting police Chief Regina McDonald placed Ganster, manager of the police Office of Personnel and Finance, on a paid but unexplained leave the first week of March, Difenderfer said. Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said Ganster's status has not changed.

McDonald placed personnel and finance civilian employees Tammy Davis and Kim Montgomery and Officer Tonya Montgomery-Ford on paid leave in February. Donaldson referred questions on their status to Public Safety Director Mike Huss, who declined to comment.

Montgomery-Ford, a master police officer, earned $103,877 in total pay in 2012, according to payroll records. Montgomery-Ford contacted Sgt. Mike LaPorte, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, when she was suspended but didn't ask the union to take any action.

“She's sitting at home getting full pay,” LaPorte said. “There has not been another conversation about it.”

Ganster earned $72,542 during 2012, Davis $44,047 and Montgomery $41,218, according to records.

Judy Hill Finegan, director of the city's Personnel & Civil Service Commission, did not return a call seeking comment.

Samuel Cordes, an attorney with more than 25 years of experience in employment law, said unless the collective bargaining agreement requires it, employers do not have to give a reason for a paid suspension.

“It's not an adverse employment action because basically you're getting a vacation,” he said.

McDonald has said she suspended the employees until an FBI investigation into the police department is completed. FBI spokeswoman Kelly Kochamba declined to comment.

Davis and Montgomery-Ford were business partners of indicted former police Chief Nate Harper. Davis, Montgomery-Ford, Cmdr. Eric Holmes and Sgt. Barry Budd formed a company — called Diverse Public Safety Consultants LLC — in February 2012 with Harper. Kim Montgomery is Tonya Montgomery-Ford's mother.

“We said, ‘How can you suspend one officer and not the others?' ” LaPorte said. “(Montgomery-Ford) was part of this company, but there are others that were a part of it that are still on the job.”

Difenderfer said Ganster went to Public Safety Director Michael Huss on Feb. 9 with concerns about spending from an unauthorized account at the Greater Pittsburgh Federal Credit Union. She was one of eight city employees with a debit card tied to a credit union account.

She told investigators that Harper used money from the account to buy riot shields for police during the Group of 20 economic summit in 2009 and outdoor furniture and ashtrays for a deck at police headquarters. Difen­derfer likened the credit union to a “petty cash” drawer that Harper used at his discretion. Difenderfer said Ganster went to Huss because she learned money from the credit union account paid for a promotion party for Holmes.

A federal grand jury indicted Harper in March on charges he diverted more than $70,000 from the police department's special events office into a private account and spent $31,986 of the money on personal expenses. He is charged with four counts of failing to file tax returns and plans to plead guilty on Friday.

Difenderfer said as a taxpayer he finds it “disgusting” that Ganster has been off the job for so long.

“How do you say, ‘I want to work. I can't stand this not working and getting full pay,' ” he said. “I don't understand what they're doing and why it's taking so long.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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