PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A KDKA investigation has raised new allegations about special treatment by the office of indicted former Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper.
This time it has to do with downtown parking.
If you’ve ever come downtown for dinner or a show and couldn’t find any place to park on the street or even got towed, you’ll want to pay particular attention to this investigation.
Joe Smetana fed the parking meter and left his car in Market Square, but when he came back it wasn’t there.
Smetana: My car was towed.
Sheehan: Was there any sign?
Smetana: Not to my knowledge there was no no parking sign posted.
Smetana had to pay $115 to get his car out of the pound and a $96 parking ticket all because after he left, the area suddenly turned into a valet parking zone operated by a company called Tri-State Valet.
Sheehan: This isn’t what you hired them to do?
Michael Mitcham: It is not what we hired them to do , no.
Tri-State is owned and operated by Robert Gigiliotti, who is a longtime friend of former Harper. They were hired by the Market Square Merchants’ Association to valet park cars from restaurant patrons in a nearby garage.
But instead, Sheehan found, nights and weekends, the valets routinely block off most of Market Square and even close down a side street – Graeme Way – to park cars.
That’s not all.
Sheehan found that the valets put Tri-State tickets on the dashboards of cars to avoid getting ticketed and seem to park wherever they please.
Unauthorized parking aside, Sheehan found Tri-State has monopolized large sections of downtown for on-street parking, under six variances issued by the police chief’s office.
In addition to Market Square spots, the chief’s office issued variances for valet parking at Morton’s Steakhouse, the Capital Grille, Vallozzi Restaurant, The Duquesne Club, and the Wyndham Hotel.
In each case, the valets claim long stretches of streets as their own.
While there are variances for other valet parking companies in other parts of the city and only one other downtown — the chief’s office limited those operations to two, three or four spaces for drop off-only.
In contrast, Tri-State’s variances are for six, eight or in the case of the Wyndham, 12 spaces.
If you or any other member of the public parks in one of those spaces, you can be towed and ticketed like Smetana.
“At the expense of the taxpayer. I’m a victim here,” Smetana said.
Through his attorney, Robert Gigliotti declined to be interviewed. However, he blamed the problems in Market Square on the actions of a “rogue” valet employee who had overstepped their bounds.
He issued a statement saying that his operation, “promotes and fosters business within the city. Like all other entities who are issued parking variances by the city, Tri-State Valet will continue to comply with all regulations and procedures in the acquisition and retention of these variances.”
Sheehan contacted Assistant Police Chief Maurita Bryant whose name is on the variances and asked her why Tri-State seems to be getting special treatment.
Bryant didn’t want to be interviewed on camera, but she said that she shared the same concerns. Bryant told Sheehan it was “no secret” that Gigliotti and Harper were close friends. When she questioned Tri-State’s need for additional spaces, she said she believed Gigliotti went over her head and complained to directly Harper.
She said she then signed the variances for the extra spaces because there was no point in denying them, saying, “(Gigliotti) would go directly to the chief, and the chief would have granted them.”
Since Tri-State makes between $5 and $10 dollars per car, but doesn’t pay to park them in garages like other valet companies, these variances would seem to be a very valuable commodity – worth tens of thousands of dollars.
The only fee the vendor pays to the city is the cost of each city-issued “no parking” sign at 50 cents per sign.
For Smetana it doesn’t add up.
“It needs to be investigated,” Smetana said.
The owners of the other valet companies also declined to be interviewed, but said they met with Harper last fall to complain about unequal treatment and nothing changed.