Lawyer: Feds looking at Ravenstahl, OT

Published by Tim McNulty on .

bob stewart and fred crawford

Here's the latest on the grand jury looking into Pittsburgh city government, from Rich Lord and Jon Silver:

Fred Crawford Jr., formerly a member of Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's security detail, testified today before a federal grand jury at the U.S. Courthouse, where he arrived accompanied by defense attorney Robert Stewart.

Mr. Crawford left the grand jury room at 3:13 p.m. after testifying for a little more than two hours. He declined to comment as he left but his attorney made a few brief remarks.

Mr. Stewart said he believes the information his client provided the grand jury centers on Mr. Ravenstahl and that he thinks people will find that "a lot of taxpayer dollars" were "wasted" on overtime for the mayor's bodyguards.

"I certainly believe he's a target," Mr. Stewart said of the mayor. "I just believe in my experience that he is the focus of the investigation."

He said he thought that someone had "already disclosed to the media" allegations that the mayor's bodyguards had been told to manipulate their time cards but "I don't know if they were ordered to lie."

The attorney said he believes Mr. Crawford, who testified under so-called queen-for-a-day or qualified immunity, spoke truthfully.

"The mayor can say that Fred's making this up," Mr. Stewart said, but he added that he doubted the U.S. Attorney's Office would allow someone to testify who they thought would lie.

Mr. Stewart said this has been a difficult time for Mr. Crawford and said that if Mr. Ravenstahl pushes much further he could find himself in trouble for witness intimidation.

The pair were crossing Seventh Avenue followed by a large crowd of reporters when an officer from the city's Zone 2 station, which covers Downtown, turned on his lights and said "Hey Freddy, you want a ride?"

Mr. Crawford got in the front seat and they drove away.

Shortly before Mr. Crawford entered, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Cessar and his colleague Lee Karl arrived. The two have been handling the probe of city of Pittsburgh dealings.

The grand jury is expected to continue meeting deep into the afternoon.

Mr. Crawford had been working as a contractor in Afghanistan until his recent return to Pittsburgh. In February, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the mayor encouraged his bodyguards to use debit cards linked to off-books accounts to keep expenditures out of the public eye. The mayor denies the accusation.

Mr. Crawford is the third and final member of the mayor's security detail to testify before the grand jury, hinting at a federal probe tightening in on the mayor's office.

In early May, the grand jury heard testimony from two police sergeants, Dominick Sciulli and Matthew Gauntner, who have served on Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's security detail. The grand jury also heard from the mayor's senior secretary, Melissa Demme.

Mr. Crawford's appearance comes about three months after former Pittsburgh police chief Nate Harper was indicted for conspiring with unidentified others to funnel about $70,000 out of city coffers and into two outside bank accounts. Of that amount, Mr. Harper is accused of personally tapping more than $30,000. Debit cards were issued from the account, including to the mayor's bodyguards.

His attorneys have said Mr. Harper plans to plead guilty.

While sergeants Sciulli and Gauntner acknowledged having debit cards, they said they were told the cards were for city business.

In March, the mayor's office produced bank documents showing Sgt. Gauntner had never used his card and Sgt. Sciulli's purchases coincided with official travel for the mayor.

But Mr. Crawford gave the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette a sharply different account, claiming that both the mayor and Public Safety Director Mike Huss were aware of the cards' links to outside bank accounts. He said the mayor asked his bodyguards to use the cards, which were stored in a police bureau safe, to keep expenditures away from the media and out of the reach of public-information statutes.

"Luke knew first-hand that these cards were given to us and they were specifically given to us because you guys were doing the Right-to-Know [requests]," Mr. Crawford said in late February. "You would never see the trail of the hotel bills and stuff like that from us."

The cards were used for "official business but it was used for unofficial business as well," Mr. Crawford said then, including alcohol.

Both the mayor and Mr. Huss have repeatedly denied Mr. Crawford's allegations.

Mr. Crawford's appearance is part of a broad federal investigation into dealings with the city of Pittsburgh that extends at least into last year.

It has resulted so far in a guilty plea to conspiracy charges by former city systems analyst Christine Kebr, a scheduled guilty plea by Robinson entrepreneur Art Bedway, and Mr. Harper's indictment.

Federal investigators are known to have received documents related to the mayor's home remodeling project and to have approached his ex-wife, Erin Lynn Feith, for an interview. She declined.

On Monday, two people told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that they had been questioned by the FBI about two contracts that went to a mayoral supporter and valet company owner, Robert Gigliotti, to run parking lots on parcels owned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The contracts, awarded in 2008, appeared to violate the authority's own leasing process by not going to a vote of the board.

Instead, the head of the authority selected Mr. Gigliotti's company, William Penn Parking, in consultation with the board chair, Yarone Zober, who is also Mr. Ravenstahl's chief of staff.

Also in early May, city police brought to the U.S. Courthouse records reflecting parking variances granted to firms -- including valet companies like Mr. Gigliotti's Tri-State Valet -- that seek authorization to park cars on city streets.

Police have said Tri-State got more variances than did competing valet firms.

Moriah Balingit contributed

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