In statements Friday, Ravenstahl and interim police Chief Regina McDonald said the indictment against Harper was “sad.” They said they are working to bolster confidence in the police bureau.
The investigation centers on a $3.85 hourly fee that bars, restaurants and other businesses pay the city when they hire off-duty officers to work security details. The money is collected on top of whatever hourly wage the officers are paid and, by law, must be kept in city-controlled accounts and spent only on certain types of police business.
Instead, Harper helped open the credit union accounts from which he spent $31,987 — mostly at restaurants, bars and department stores — using two Visa debit cards to make automatic teller machine withdrawals and purchases, Hickton said.
Harper’s attorneys said the former chief was somewhat “naive” and may have believed at first that it was OK to open the unauthorized accounts because the money was still being spent on police-related business, including a massive Gatorade purchase to quench the thirst of officers brought in to handle the G-20 protests, for example.
At some point, however, Harper began spending the money on himself, which DelGreco said Harper understands was “unambiguously and indefensibly” wrong.
The attorneys hinted that Harper, who has three daughters and five grandchildren, exhausted his wages on his family and became tempted by the credit union funds.
“I think the lure of the unmonitored accessibility of that account proved to be an irresistible temptation,” DelGreco said.
The attorneys said Harper didn’t fail to file his tax returns to hide the money, but simply because of “procrastination” and “personal issues” that took precedence. Among other things, three city police officers were fatally gunned down in April 2009 — when the first of Harper’s delinquent tax returns would have been due — and Harper never got back on track in handling his personal affairs, the attorneys said.
The indictment grew out of another federal investigation in which a former city employee has already pleaded guilty to taking $6,000 in bribes to help a business owned by a man Harper has described as a former friend land a $327,000 contract to install computers and radios in squad cars in 2007.
Harper continues to deny taking bribes or making money from that contract, Leight said. But as investigators poked into Harper’s finances to see if he had any unexplained income from that scheme, Harper told investigators about money he stole from the police fees fund, Leight said.