Despite pleas for leniency, judge sentences Harper to 18 months

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Siding with arguments presented by prosecuting attorneys, US District Judge Cathy Bissoon has sentenced former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper to 18 months in prison and ordered him to pay $31,000 in restitution for his part in stealing funds from a federal credit union and for filing false tax returns.

Harper, 61, pleaded guilty in October to charges of diverting more than $70,000 from unauthorized credit union accounts and spending more than $31,000 on himself. Prosecutors contended that because he directed two other offices to open and mange the account, he was the leader of a conspiracy and should face the harshest sentence. Bissoon agreed.

Harpers attorneys had argued he never directed officers to manage the accounts, cooperated fully with investigators, and has already suffered the loss of his job and his pension. The Policemen’s Relief and Pension Fund voted to forfeit Harper’s $5,260-a-month pension in December. Harper has appealed, and is awaiting a determination from Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge W. Terrence O’Brien.

Prior to sentencing, several character witnesses testified on Harper’s behalf including his wife Cynthia and his daughter Crystal. They asked Bissoon to show leniency, noting she was not bound by the 18-24 month sentencing guidelines, which are based on the severity of the crimes committed and whether or not he led the conspiracy.

Harper, whose 36-year career saw him rise from motorcycle patrol, to commander and finally to chief, resigned after being indicted in March. He pleaded guilty to all charges in October.

Though he was named in as a co-conspirator by the defendants in a separate bid-rigging case involving his friend Art Bedway receiving a contract to install video equipment in police cars, he has not been charged in that case.

Harper’s sentencing ends the second phase of a federal probe that began with the Bedway indictment. U.S. Attorney David Hickton said the third phase, which is looking beyond the Bureau of Police into other city operations, is ongoing.

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