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Ex-Pittsburgh Police Chief Harper Faces Conspiracy, Tax Evasion Charges

Deanna Garcia
90.5 WESA

U.S. Attorney David Hickton announced a five-count indictment Friday against former Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper. The charges range from conspiracy and theft of public funds to willful failure to file income tax returns.

It’s the result of a joint investigation with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the IRS. Hickton said the first count is conspiracy to engage in the theft of public money through the diversion of funds to the Pittsburgh Federal Credit Union.

“$70,000 was diverted; $31,000 was attributed to Mr. Harper for personal use,” Hickton said. “The diversion was improper, and the personal use was improper.”

Hickton called it the “worst kind of public corruption.”

“Some examples were an XM radio for his car, a ladder; another example was kitchen appliances," he said. "Then there was plenty of examples listed of food and beverage, alcohol; there were debit transactions listed."

Harper, 60, resigned under pressure in February after Mayor Luke Ravenstahl met with the FBI about the investigation, which became public when federal agents seized internal police financial documents earlier that month.

"Today is a sad day for the Bureau of Police, and for the City of Pittsburgh as a whole," Raventstahl said via a statement to the media. "We will continue to work tirelessly to rebuild the Bureau and to ensure that Pittsburgh remains one of the nation’s safest cities."

The indictment outlines charges at places such as The Wine Loft, Grandview Saloon, Nakama Pittsburgh, Outback Steak House, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and others. There is also a charge for a 32-inch LCD Television from Sam’s Club.

In addition, Harper is indicted on charges of willful failure to file income tax returns from 2008 through 2011.

“During these years Mr. Harper received approximately $470,000," said Akeia Conner, special agent in charge of the Philadelphia field office of the IRS. "Although he was fully aware of his legal requirements, he willfully chose not to file his income tax returns for four consecutive years.”

When asked why Harper would fail to file income taxes, Hickton said he couldn’t say, but called it puzzling.

“This is a sad day for most of us,” he said, “We worked with him as a partner in many the joint law enforcement efforts. He worked with us on G-20. He worked with us when we were trying to find out who was making bomb threats at the University of Pittsburgh.”

Harper faces a penalty of up to nine years in prison and fines of up to $650,000. Hickton said the investigation is ongoing.

Attorneys for Harper say he plans to plead guilty to the tax and conspiracy crimes he's been charged with.

Lawyers Robert Leight and Robert Del Greco said Harper has acknowledged misusing nearly $32,000 in police department funds.

Harper didn't appear at the post-indictment news conference Friday because his attorneys say he is "embarrassed and distraught."