PITTSBURGH (AP) - An ongoing federal investigation involving former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and the city’s lawsuit challenging the nonprofit status of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have intersected - at the ex-mayor’s computer.
Ravenstahl took the city-issued computer with him for about 10 days after leaving office in January, but has since returned it. Now UPMC’s attorneys, in a federal court filing, want to know if Ravenstahl did anything with the device that might impact the ongoing court challenge of UPMC’s nonprofit status.
“UPMC has a right to know if Mayor Ravenstahl deleted anything from his computer that was related to the lawsuit he initiated,” UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said.
UPMC wants a federal judge to appoint a computer expert to examine the device - but when and how that would happen isn’t clear because Ravenstahl’s successor, Mayor Bill Peduto, has since turned over the computer to the FBI.
Peduto said he did that because of an ongoing grand jury probe involving Ravenstahl’s office that federal prosecutors have acknowledged, but not detailed.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton said earlier this year that the investigation grew out of - but isn’t directly related to - the prosecution of Ravenstahl’s hand-picked former police chief.
That man, Nathan Harper, last month was sentenced to 18 months in prison for helping set up a secret police slush fund from which he spent more than $31,000, using unauthorized police credit union accounts where it was illegal to keep city money. Ravenstahl’s former police body guards have told the grand jury they had debit cards linked to the slush fund accounts, which would have enabled them to spend money that wouldn’t have turned up in city records, and Harper claims Ravenstahl ordered him to create the fund.
Ravenstahl hasn’t been charged in the federal criminal probe, and has denied wrongdoing.
And now his attorney, Charles Porter Jr., is denying Ravenstahl did anything wrong with the computer, either.
Porter said Ravenstahl didn’t trust the Peduto administration with the computer.
“Nothing was removed, nothing was deleted, no evidence has been destroyed. And that’s the reality,” he said. Still, Porter wouldn’t say what Ravenstahl gained by taking the computer home, if he didn’t delete anything from it.
Ronald Barber, the attorney representing the city in the UPMC lawsuit, said UPMC has nothing to fear. “All I can tell you is that this is an overreaction,” Barber said of UPMC’s demands to examine Ravenstahl’s computer.
Peduto isn’t commenting on the UPMC filing to access the computer. But the new mayor has said the lawsuit against UPMC - which Peduto’s administration has continued to pursue - is a way of putting pressure on UPMC to agree to a PILOT - or payment in lieu of taxes - program with the city.
Peduto wants nonprofits to contribute money for city services because UPMC, city universities and other nonprofits don’t pay property taxes.
The lawsuit Ravenstahl initiated argues UPMC operates more like a private business than a charity. UPMC has countered with claims of more than a half billion dollars’ worth of charitable spending, including free health care and donations to other nonprofits.
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