After 36 years as a Pittsburgh police officer, including six years as chief, Nate Harper begins his life as a convicted felon with unanswered questions clouding his future.
Arguably the largest is whether he will go to prison. But there's also the question of whether he will keep his pension and what kind of job he can find when his conviction blocks many jobs open to former police officers.
"It's going to be very hard for him," said Robert Leight, one of Harper's attorneys.
Robert Del Greco, another of Harper's attorneys, said his family is what keeps the former chief going.
The components of his life have been "cop, husband, father and grandfather. The cop component is gone," he said.
Harper, 60, of Stanton Heights pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiring to steal money from a federally funded program and four counts of failing to file his income taxes.
The conspiracy involved opening a private credit union account and funneling city money into that account and a pre-existing account and then obtaining debit cards to spend the money.
The money came from the $3.85-per-hour fee businesses pay the city when they hire off-duty police officers.
Harper had police department employees divert more than $70,000 from the special events office to the two accounts between July 2008 and November 2012, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Cessar said during the plea hearing.
"Beginning on or about Sept. 2, 2008, and continuing to on or about Dec. 20, 2012, Harper did misapply for his own use approximately $31,986.99 of the funds," Cessar said.
"This case is about greed and the theft of taxpayer money for private gain," U.S. Attorney David Hickton said after the hearing. "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, who is thinner than when he was indicted in March, stoically answered U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon's questions during the hearing but declined to comment as he left accompanied by his wife, Cynthia, and a half-dozen friends.
He remains free on a $100,000 unsecured bond. Bissoon scheduled his sentencing for Feb. 25.
Peter Williams, 67, a retired state police officer and longtime friend of Harper's, was one of those who showed up to provide moral support.
"They're some of the best people in Pittsburgh that I know," he said.
Leight said Harper rejected a plea agreement from the government because it would have kept him from challenging motions the government will make in February seeking to increase the length of his sentence.
The proposal also wouldn't have provided Harper with a motion to reduce his sentence based on his cooperation with investigators, despite the fact that he's met with FBI agents a half-dozen times and will continue to answer their questions, Leight said.
Accepting such a deal "wasn't in his best interests," Leight said.
Del Greco said they plan to keep talking with prosecutors and may reach an agreement before Harper's sentencing.
"We weren't miles apart" on the agreement, he said. "Just inches."
They hope to persuade Bissoon to sentence Harper to home confinement and probation or some other alternative sentence that doesn't include prison time.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.
One topic at the sentencing will be how much Harper owes in restitution. Leight said they plan to challenge part of the $31,986 that prosecutors say Harper spent for personal uses.
The amount includes a 32-inch LCD television he bought for the Zone 1 police station and several restaurant tabs he picked up during police department-related meetings, Leight said.
Prosecutors have agreed that about $40,000 was spent on department-related expenses, such as equipment and lodging for the 2009 G-20 economic summit and paying off the loan on Officer Eric Kelly's SUV, which was damaged when a Stanton Heights man killed Kelly and two other officers responding to a domestic disturbance call in April 2009.