- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A federal court jury rejected a Pittsburgh police clerk’s claim that she was wrongly suspended with pay for more than three years for questioning whether the former mayor gave a valet parking vendor preferential treatment.

The jury returned a verdict Tuesday after deliberating Officer Tonya Montgomery-Ford’s claims for about an hour.

Montgomery-Ford claimed she was suspended in 2013 by former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl because she blew the whistle and testified before a federal grand jury investigating alleged corruption under Ravenstahl. Nobody was charged as a result of that investigation.

City attorneys countered that Montgomery was rightly suspended because of ties to former police Chief Nate Harper, who also was investigated by the federal grand jury and eventually went to prison for stealing nearly $32,000 from an illegal slush fund. Montgomery-Ford was never charged in connection to those thefts.

“The verdict confirmed what I knew all along,” Ravenstahl said Tuesday. “It’s a decision that I knew to be true.”

The plaintiff’s attorney, Samuel Cordes, said he knew Montgomery-Ford’s claims would be difficult to prove without a paper trail showing she had made the complaints about the allegedly politically connected valet parking vendor.

“She fought the fight, she’s back at work,” Cordes said, referring to police Chief Cameron McLay’s decision to reinstate her in April. McLay was hired by Ravenstahl’s successor, Mayor Bill Peduto, who was elected in 2013 after Ravenstahl opted not to run for another term.

“The jury paid close attention and made a decision, and we respect that,” Cordes said.

Ravenstahl testified at the trial last week that he seconded then-Public Safety Director Michael Huss’s decision to suspend Montgomery-Ford while city and federal officials determined whether she was linked to Harper’s misdeeds.

Harper, 63, resigned in February 2013 - when Montgomery-Ford was also suspended - and later pleaded guilty to conspiracy and other charges. He served 14 months in prison for conspiring to move nearly $73,000 in police funds to an unauthorized credit union account. Federal prosecutors contend the account was used to make un-budgeted purchases, and that Harper also spent nearly $32,000 of that money on himself.

Harper’s alleged “conspirators” were never identified by authorities, and nobody else was ever criminally charged in the federal grand jury investigation, though Ravenstahl’s bodyguards acknowledged being subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury about the slush fund and their work for Ravenstahl.

One former bodyguard, Fred Crawford Jr., testified during the lawsuit trial last week that Ravenstahl was paranoid about FBI bugs and had his office swept for electronic surveillance every four months.

Ravenstahl said Tuesday that the federal probe was a “rather costly and expensive fishing expedition. It came up empty as I knew it would.”

“It was what we expected,” city solicitor Michael Kennedy said Tuesday. “It was a just verdict.”

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