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Businessman pleads guilty in police computer scam

Joe Mandak, Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A businessman pleaded guilty Tuesday to bribing a city official to get a $327,000 contract to put radios and computers in city police cars, but his lawyer said Pittsburgh's former police chief came up with the idea and was paid $10,000 for his role in it.

Nathan Harper, who resigned as chief in February, hatched the phony bid scheme involving Arthur Bedway Jr.'s company, Bedway's lawyer Martin Dietz told the judge.

Harper and his attorneys have repeatedly denied any involvement in the scheme or the radio contract.

"Nate Harper approached Mr. Bedway about this idea," and the chief brought city employee Christine Kebr into it, Dietz said moments before Bedway pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery and mail fraud.

Kebr, 55, pleaded guilty in December to taking $6,000 in bribes from Bedway to help his business, Alpha Outfitters, land the contract in 2007. According to her guilty plea, she took the bribes to prepare bids that made it appear Bedway's business was owned by a woman in order to take advantage of city set-asides for female-owned businesses.

Harper resigned in February and was indicted in March on charges he conspired to set up a secret police slush fund using fees collected from bars and other businesses that hire city officers to work off-duty security details. Harper is also charged with spending more than $30,000 from the fund for personal reasons and not filing federal tax returns from 2008 to 2011.

Harper's attorneys have said he'll plead guilty.

One of the attorneys, Robert DelGreco Jr., on Thursday again denied Harper's involvement in the Bedway scheme and said the former chief was "disturbed" by the allegations.

"The chief categorically denies there was any truth he was involved as a mastermind with Alpha Outfitters or that Art Bedway gave him any money," DelGreco told The Associated Press. "I think the best evidence that it did not occur can be gleaned from the fact that Art Bedway has made these allegations for quite some time and there will be no charges against Nate Harper stemming from those assertions."

Still, Dietz told the judge that Harper is the unspecified "person known to the grand jury" whom Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Karl referred to when the prosecutor outlined the scheme for the judge.

"As far as we're concerned, he was the mastermind of the whole, the entire idea," Dietz told reporters outside the federal courthouse.

According to Dietz, Harper and the city were unhappy with another radio supplier, so the chief approached Bedway about bidding on a new contract. Dietz contends the city got a "bargain" on the radios, even though he concedes Bedway got the contract illegally.

"They were hoping this was going to progress and have this contract for years and years," Dietz said. "It was a legit business, but how they got the business (contract) wasn't legit."

Kebr, the city employee who pleaded guilty, is scheduled for sentencing in October. Her attorney didn't immediately return a call for comment on Dietz's remarks.

Bedway and Kebr testified before a federal grand jury known to be investigating unspecified allegations against Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who halted his campaign for a second four-year term in March, citing the collateral damage such publicity has had on his family, among other considerations.

Ravenstahl and his attorney have denied wrongdoing, and Dietz told reporters the Bedway contract is "completely unrelated" to any inquiry involving Ravenstahl. Dietz said, however, that the slush fund charges Harper faces grew out of the mayoral probe.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment on Dietz's remarks and can't comment on grand jury investigations, which are secret.

Bedway, 63, returns for sentencing Nov. 20.