A federal grand jury Friday indicted ousted Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper on charges of failure to file tax returns and diverting public money for his own use.
"This is puzzling and baffling behavior, and a sad day," said U.S. Attorney David Hickton, who noted he worked with Harper on high-profile events and investigations for several years. "The allegations represent the worst kind of public corruption."
Prosecutors charged Harper, 60, of Stanton Heights with four counts of failure to pay taxes and one count of conspiracy. He pleaded not guilty during an initial appearance about 2 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell, who released Harper on $100,000 unsecured bond. He ordered the former chief to surrender his passport.
Harper, wearing a tan suit, said nothing except answering the judge's questions with "yes, sir." He was accompanied only by his attorneys, Robert Del Greco and Bob Leight, who planned a 3 p.m. news conference, Downtown.
On the conspiracy charge, Harper diverted at least $70,628.92 from the $3.85-per-hour administrative fee business pay when they hire off-duty officers, and he used at least $31,986.99 for his own benefit, prosecutors say. They also say he failed to pay taxes for four years on salaries ranging from $110,000 to $123,000.
"Today's indictment of Nathan Harper for public corruption violations is not an indictment of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police have a successful, long-standing and collaborative partnership to advance the public service mission of our respective agencies," said Gary Douglas Perdue, Special Agent in charge of the Pittsburgh office of the FBI. "That being said, stemming public corruption is the FBI's top criminal investigative priority. It will not be tolerated in our community, no matter the level, the amount or the individuals involved."
The indictment comes two months after the Tribune-Review reported the grand jury's work and one month after Mayor Luke Ravenstahl forced Harper to resign his post. Harper led the department since 2006.
Ravenstahl is in Bradenton, Fla., where the Pirates have spring training. In a written statement, he called it a sad day for the city and police bureau.
"We will continue to work tirelessly to rebuild the bureau and to ensure that Pittsburgh remains one of the nation's safest cities," he said.
Public Safety Director Michael Huss could not be reached.
The indictment accuses Harper of working with others to send public money to secret accounts at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union and tapping the accounts for personal use, including purchases and meals.
The indictment lists 14 checks meant for city accounts that went to credit union accounts labeled "Special Events" and "IPF." The largest check topped $10,000.
Authorities said he used two of eight debit cards from the credit union to withdraw cash and buy perfume, food and alcohol, an oven upgrade, a ladder, movies, a gift card and a 32-inch LCD TV.
The last transaction listed in the indictment was Dec. 20.
Between September 2008 and December 2012, Harper used $31,986.99 of the money from two credit union accounts using two Visa cards, the indictment states. It lists more than 50 transactions between April 2010 and December at places including Harris Grill, Nakama, The Wine Loft, Grandview Salon, Macy's, Hofbrauhaus and XM Radio. He spent $391.38 at Sam's Club on the TV and other items on Aug. 16, 2010; $700.85 to Houston-Starr for the oven upgrade on June 7, 2010 and $326.33 at the Capital Grille on Dec. 14, 2011.
Hickton declined to say whether his office will seek indictments against anyone else involved in the debit card conspiracy. He would not say whether Ravenstahl, whose bodyguards had debit cards from the credit union, is under investigation.
Ravenstahl has said authorities told him he is not a target.