Other than saying “yes your honor” to US District Justice Cathy Bissoon, former Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper made no comment to reporters before pleading guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and filing false tax returns.
The plea followed his March indictment on charges that he and others diverted more than $70,000 in city fees collected for off-duty police work into unauthorized accounts at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union.
Harper, 60, was charged with spending nearly $36,000 of the funds for his personal use on items ranging from a stove and television to an XM satellite radio and a $400 steak dinner.
Though he has cooperated with the investigation Harper pleaded guilty to all charges and accepted no deal according to his attorney Robert Del Grecco, who called the evidence against Harper “overwhelming.”
“He pleaded guilty because he was guilty,” said Del Grecco. “We acknowledged that from the start.”
Del Grecco said his focus now is on keeping Harper out of Federal prison and saving his $6,000 per month pension. Sentencing guidelines indicate he could be sentenced to between 12 and 16 months. He and fellow defense attorney Robert Leight plan to argue for house arrest and probation. Harper is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 25. He remains free on a $100,000 bond.
Del Grecco said Harper, who’s 36 year career saw him rise through the ranks from Motorcycle patrol to narcotics and ultimately to chief where he served the last six years, was a good man who succumbed to temptation.
US Attorney David Hickton differed. In a prepared statement, he said Harper violated the public trust:
“This case is about greed and the theft of public money for private gain. Public officials, especially those who serve in law enforcement have a responsibility to make governmental decisions in the best interests of the citizens, not themselves.”
Harper is the third individual to plead guilty in the wide-ranging federal investigation of city corruption. The first two were former city systems analyst Christine Kebr and businessman Art Bedway who admitted to conspiring to steer a contract to outfit police cars with camera equipment to Bedway’s company.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who said Harper’s indictment and the ongoing federal inquiry was a factor in his decision not to seek another term, called it a “sad day.” Several members of his administrative team have also resigned, or been interviewed by investigators, or both, among them were two former bodyguards who had debit cards linked to the same account Harper used. The mayor continues to insist he is not a target.
Harper has continued to speak with investigators, but his attorneys would not discuss his assistance, nor would they speak on any pending indictments against Harper’s still un-named coconspirators. Federal prosecutors, they said, will announce those when ready.
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