Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Harper Plea Could Quicken His Trial

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Harper Plea Could Quicken His Trial

Article excerpt

Former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper was indicted Friday for "the worst kind of public corruption," said U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton -- the theft of money "that belongs to the taxpayers," for his personal use.

The shocking reality of the charges, after weeks of speculation around the case, was quickly matched by another surprise: One of his attorneys, Robert Del Greco Jr., said Mr. Harper will plead guilty "to that indictment, without modification. ... The evidence is overwhelming and unambiguous."

Mr. Harper was indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of conspiracy to use public funds for personal use and four counts of failing to file federal income tax returns (for 2008 through 2011). Prosecutors said Mr. Harper and other unnamed individuals diverted more than $70,000 meant for the city of Pittsburgh to accounts at a credit union and tapped it with debit cards. The former chief spent more than $30,000 on personal items.

At his arraignment Friday, Mr. Harper did plead not guilty, the customary plea at this stage. But at a news conference an hour after the indictment, Mr. Del Greco said, "I would expect that relatively soon we would put in for a change of plea and get on someone's docket to enter a guilty plea."

What are the next steps in Mr. Harper's case?

A guilty plea would start a process that can be over in as little as five months.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell set a May 6 deadline for pretrial motions. Such deadlines are routinely pushed back in federal court, but a quick guilty plea could make that unnecessary.

In mid-November, for instance, another former city employee, Christine Kebr, was charged by a criminal information with conspiracy. Within three weeks, she had pleaded guilty, confirming to a judge that she took $6,000 in bribes to help steer a city contract to an Esplen firm called Alpha Outfitters. She is scheduled to be sentenced April 4.

If Mr. Harper pleads guilty, he'll likely go through a pretrial evaluation aimed at determining whether he has any prior criminal history -- and all indications are that he does not -- and what sentence is suggested by federal guidelines. …

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