PITTSBURGH – A police officer has sued the city and its former mayor claiming she’s been wrongly suspended from her job since early last year because she opposed favors the former mayor allegedly granted to a friend with a valet parking business.
Tonya Montgomery-Ford filed the federal lawsuit Thursday against the city and former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
Federal prosecutors have acknowledged an investigation involving the city’s police bureau and Ravenstahl since last year, though the former mayor has not been charged.
Ravenstahl forced his hand-picked police chief, Nathan Harper, to resign as a result of the investigation in February 2013. A year later, Harper was sentenced to 18 months in prison in connection with an illegal police slush fund.
Ford contends she was wrongly suspended without explanation the day after Harper resigned. She seeks reinstatement and unspecified damages in an 11-page complaint that contends she upset Ravenstahl and Assistant Chief George Trosky by opposing valet parking variances for a company owned by their friend, Robert Gigliotti.
Ford had been an assistant to the police chief since 2001, years before Ravenstahl took office in 2006 and then appointed Harper. Part of her job was to process parking variances, which allow companies to use metered city parking spaces for free, the lawsuit said.
Ford contends Gigliotti’s Tri-State Valet allegedly got its variances because of his relationship with Ravenstahl and Trosky. That helped Gigliotti make more money because he didn’t have to pay to park some customers’ cars in commercial garages or lots, the lawsuit said.
Gigliotti didn’t immediately return a call for comment Thursday. The city, its police bureau and law department didn’t immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
The Associated Press could not find a listed phone number for Ravenstahl. His attorney in the grand jury probe, Charles Porter Jr., declined comment because he doesn’t represent Ravenstahl in the lawsuit.
Ravenstahl aborted his re-election campaign in March 2013, less than two weeks after forcing Harper to resign. At the time, Ravenstahl blamed the “grueling demands” of the job but denied the federal investigation prompted it. “I’ve done nothing wrong, and that will be proven over time,” Ravenstahl said then.
Since then, Harper was charged and pleaded guilty to conspiring with unnamed others – though Harper and his attorneys claim Ravenstahl was involved – to divert more than $70,000 from a city account into two unauthorized credit union accounts, then spent nearly $32,000 of that himself. The money derived from a $3.85 hourly fee the city charged bars and other businesses to hire city police for off-duty security details.
Ravenstahl has acknowledged two of his police bodyguards used debit cards from the same credit union accounts, though U.S. Attorney David Hickton has said the charges Harper faced were not directly related to the continuing federal grand jury investigation. Hickton’s office declined comment Thursday on Ford’s lawsuit and the status of the investigation.
Ford has acknowledged testifying before the grand jury, but her attorney, Samuel Cordes, refused to say whether she was questioned about the parking variances mentioned in her lawsuit.
“That’s the implication, but I don’t think I want to go beyond that right now,” Cordes said.