Share This Page

The Harper indictment: Questions & trust

| Friday, March 22, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Friday's federal indictment of former Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper — and his decision to plead guilty to all five charges against him — raise more questions than they answer.

Mr. Harper, 60, ousted by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl a month ago following Hizzoner's eye-opening meeting with the feds, is charged with five criminal counts.

There's one conspiracy count for using nearly $32,000 of more than $70,000 in illicitly diverted fees that businesses paid to the city for off-duty police work.

Prosecutors say Harper and others put that money into secret accounts at the police credit union, which Harper then tapped — via debit cards, and as recently as Dec. 20 — for cash and to buy meals, alcohol, perfume, an oven upgrade, a TV and more.

Then there are four counts of tax evasion for failing to file taxes on four years of income, a total of $470,000.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton says Harper engaged in “puzzling and baffling behavior ... the worst kind of public corruption.” And questions abound.

Why would a well-paid police chief divert and steal money? Why would he not file his taxes, a crime easily detected? And who are the “unknown others” referred to in the 13-page indictment? How much larger is this scandal?

The investigation is ongoing, Mr. Hickton says. But the case against Harper is “not an indictment of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police,” the FBI's Gary Douglas Perdue stresses.

Perhaps not in the legal sense. But it is in the eyes of a public whose trust in this police department now can't help but be shaken.

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.