PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Former Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper has been indicted by a federal grand jury on five counts of public corruption.
The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney David Hickton at a news conference at the federal courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh. He labeled corruption by a law enforcement official as “the worst form of criminal activity.”
“The allegations represent the worst kind of public corruption, the theft of public funds by a person in a position of high public trust, a critical position of public safety. In this case, the police chief of Pittsburgh,” said Hickton.
WATCH: Hickton Outlines Harper’s Indictment:
- Harper Indictment Press Conference (Part 1)
- Harper Indictment Press Conference (Part 2)
- Harper Indictment Press Conference (Part 3)
The former chief is charged with one count of conspiracy for diverting money from city accounts into two private accounts at the Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union.
The indictment states that between 2008 and 2012 Harper misappropriated more than $70,000 from the credit union account; $32,000 for his personal use.
Investigators say Harper issued seven debit cards to police employees and kept one for himself. The indictment says he used the card for his own enjoyment.
That included thousands of dollars for dining and drinks at Pittsburgh’s finest restaurants, including a $326 dinner at The Capital Grille, and dinners costing $154 and $105 at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse; also cited is a $112 night at the Savoy restaurant in the Strip District.
But the indictment goes on to say that Harper used his debit cards as his own personal ATM card, withdrawing thousands from an ATM on Federal Street alone. There is no other record of these cash transactions. But Hickton said there were a number of personal goods purchased by Harper on the card.
Some example listed were an XM Radio for his car, a ladder and kitchen appliances.
KDKA’s Andy Sheehan Reports:
Counts two through five allege that the former chief failed to file federal income tax returns for the years 2008 through 2011, during which investigators say he made $475,000.
“Although he was fully aware of his legal requirement, he willfully neglected to file this income tax for four consecutive years,” IRS Special Agent In Charge Akeia Conner said.
Hickton refused to say whether there will be additional indictments, only “it’s safe to say that the investigation is continuing.”
And when asked by KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan whether Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is a target of the investigation or cooperating with investigators, Hickton refused to say.
Hickton said he is personally disappointed in Harper’s actions, having worked closely with him and the Pittsburgh Police Department on such cases as the bomb threats at the University of Pittsburgh last year, and security related to the G20 Summit in 2009.
“This is a sad day for us,” said Hickton. And given that the chief has spent a lifetime in law enforcement “this is puzzling and baffling behavior.”
Hickton said any public corruption cannot be tolerated.
“These monies belong to the taxpayers and they have been taken by theft,” said Hickton.
Hickton said they are seeking the maximum penalty for Harper, who is facing up to nine years in prison and $650,000 in fines.
Harper originally pleaded not guilty during his arraignment; however, it seems as though a plea bargain could be in the works.
“The indictment is indefensible, we will plead guilty to all counts,” Harper’s attorney, Robert Del Greco, said.
KDKA’s Marty Griffin Reports:
If Harper pleads guilty, he could likely face 10 to 16 months in prison, rather than nine years.
“I think we’re prepared to plead to that indictment without modification, because as indicated, the evidence is unambiguous and overwhelming,” said Del Greco. “I think it’s a fair indictment in that we are certain that the allegations in the indictment would be proved in a court of law.
As to why Harper would use the debit cards illegally and spend money that wasn’t his, Del Greco said: “I think the lure of the unmonitored accessibility of that account proved to be an irresistible temptation for Nate and what he did was he used public funds for personal use.”
Del Greco would not say if Harper would testify on behalf of any other possible subjects of the investigation, but if asked, he would speak truthfully.
While prosecutors emphasized that this is not an indictment of the Pittsburgh police, the probe does not end here.
“It’s safe to say the investigation continues,” Hickton added.
Friday afternoon the police department issued a statement in response to Harper’s indictment.
“We (PBP) are saddened to learn of the Federal indictments against former Police Chief Nathan E. Harper,” the statement read. “The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police wants to reassure the residents of the City of Pittsburgh that our officers and civilian personnel are dedicated hardworking professionals who will continue to protect and serve the City of Pittsburgh to the best of our ability.”
Mayor Ravenstahl has also issued a statement on the day’s developments.
It reads: “Today is a sad day for the Bureau of Police, and for the City of Pittsburgh as a whole. We will continue to work tirelessly to rebuild the Bureau and to ensure that Pittsburgh remains one of the nation’s safest cities.”
NewsRadio 1020 KDKA’s Bill Rehkopf interviews Walter Zalisko of Police Management Consultants International:
Two Pittsburgh mayoral candidates have also released statements on the indictment. Read them in full below:
City Controller Michael Lamb: “These charges are very disappointing. Those in public office at any level, but especially in positions of authority like the police chief, have a duty to not only obey the law, but to lead by example. It is critical for our communities to trust the Police Department and as Mayor, I will enact reforms to ensure this never happens again. Today, we need leadership from our Mayor and our Police to ensure we get the bottom of this issue – I will support this in any way I can.
“While these charges are serious and disturbing, we should all keep in mind they do not reflect the hard work of the rest of the police department, whose members work hard every day to keep us safe and secure across the City.”
Former Auditor General Jack Wagner: “Today is a sad day for the residents of Pittsburgh. As mayor, I will work to restore the public’s trust in the leadership of the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.”
Stay with KDKA as we continue to update this story.
Former U.S. Attorney Weighs In Harper Indictment (3/23/13)
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