PITTSBURGH – A security consulting company formed by former police Chief Nate Harper and four underlings is disbanding, according to the attorney for one of them, a city police commander.
The five set up the company after the city police received positive feedback from security they coordinated during the Group of 20 economic summit and related protests in September 2009, said attorney Patrick Thomassey, who represents Cmdr. Erie Holmes. “None of it involved public time. It was all on their own time,” Thomassey said.
Holmes was involved in Diversified Public Safety Consultants with Harper and three other police employees. Harper has previously said the company was never operational, but was instead set up as something he would work on when he retired. That was before the 60-year-old chief was forced to resign last month by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
The mayor requested Harper’s resignation after meeting with the FBI about an investigation into city police finances.
Based on records seized by federal agents, the probe appears to center on how the city accounted for and spent a $3.85-per-hour administrative fee it charges bars and other businesses that hire off-duty city officers to provide security details. The fee generated about $800,000 for the city last year alone, and the FBI has seized records from a police credit union through which at least some of that money was kept and paid out, including to cover some expenses for Ravenstahl’s police bodyguards.
Ravenstahl announced March 1 he won’t run for re-election but has said he is cooperating with the federal probe and is not a target. Harper has denied wrongdoing, even as the city – along with the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office – has begun taking a wide-ranging look at officers’ secondary employment, including Harper’s consulting business.
Despite the chief’s claim that the security company was dormant, Thomassey said Diversified Public Safety Consultants generated $5,600 last year from three customers, including the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, which runs the city’s professional sports stadiums and convention center. Once last year’s tax returns are filed, the business will be dissolved, Thomassey said.
Meanwhile, the district attorney’s office has issued cease-and-desist letters to four other security or law-enforcement firms owned by city police officers until it can be determined whether the officers need private detective licenses to operate them.
Finally, the City Council is considering a measure to formalize the $3.85 hourly fee that the city charges for off-duty service details. The city law department is reviewing whether council ever formally passed legislation allowing the fee to be collected, though it is nonetheless included in the police bureau’s policies.