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Pittsburgh police payroll accountant accused of stealing funds

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Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Tamara Davis leaves Pittsburgh Municipal Court, Downtown, on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014. She was freed on her own recognizance.

A Pittsburgh police civilian clerk is accused of stealing $9,165 in city money from the secret fund that helped land the city’s former police chief in federal prison, court records filed Monday show.

The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office charged Tamara Davis, 48, of the Hill District with felony counts of theft and forgery. Davis surrendered Monday and was released on her own recognizance. She wiped away tears and declined to comment as she walked out of the Pittsburgh Municipal Court building.

The charges appear to end the investigation into spending from the account at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union.

“With the filing of these charges, our office does not anticipate any other individuals being charged in connection with the handling of these funds, and we are pleased to be able to work with City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Chief Cameron McLay and City of Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar to conclude what has been a sad and unfortunate chapter in the history of the department,” Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.’s office, wrote in a statement.

Davis, the chief clerk in the Office of Personnel and Finance who was placed on paid leave in February 2013 by then-acting police Chief Regina McDonald, is no longer being paid effective Monday, Mayor Bill Peduto said. He said he needs more information before taking further action.

Peduto described fallout from the investigation as a “quagmire” and a “long, almost never-ending fiasco” that continues to cast the city and police in a negative light.

“I guess it’s been so long that you sort of become numb to it,” Peduto said. “You just want it to end.”

According to the criminal complaint, Davis made a $4,000 cash withdrawal in September 2009 from the credit union account established by former Chief Nate Harper, 61, who resigned in February 2013 and was indicted the next month on federal charges of conspiracy and failure to file tax returns.

Harper is in federal prison, in part, for directing more than $70,600 into the accounts he opened at the credit union and spending $31,987 on meals and drinks, gifts, a TV and other personal uses. The money came from businesses that hire off-duty officers. Prosecutors said some of the money was used for legitimate department expenses, but they haven’t provided a full accounting. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment.

Davis told investigators the $4,000 she withdrew purchased riot shields for officers working during the Group of 20 economic summit; detectives discovered invoices showing the city paid for them with checks.

Davis is accused of fabricating invoices supposedly prepared by Lt. Matthew Gauntner for the Cops and Kids program in July 2012. Gauntner, who worked as one of three primary bodyguards in former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s security team, told detectives he did not prepare the invoices and did not receive the $3,000 in cash Davis said she withdrew and gave him, the complaint said. Detectives suspect Davis made the invoices to obtain a check for $3,000. She’s accused of keeping $2,000 of that money. All told, Davis took more than $9,000, police said.

Investigators said Davis told Pittsburgh police Officer Tonya Montgomery-Ford, who operates a printing business called D&T Enterprises, that she was paid about $2,000 out of the wrong account for children’s backpacks in December 2010 and that Montgomery-Ford should reimburse her in cash, the complaint said. Records indicate Montgomery-Ford was paid out of the credit union account. The city issued D&T a check in February 2011 and Montgomery-Ford told investigators she wrote a check for $2,000 cash from D&T’s account and gave the money to Davis, the complaint said.

McDonald in early 2013 also placed on paid administrative leave Montgomery-Ford; her mother Kim Montgomery, a clerk in the personnel and finance office who retired in January; and Sandra Ganster, manager of the Office of Personnel and Finance.

Montgomery-Ford filed a lawsuit in June claiming the city and Ravenstahl suspended her because she opposed and reported abuses of the city’s parking variance system. Ravenstahl and the city deny retaliating against her.

Peduto said Montgomery-Ford and Ganster will remain on paid leave. Through Oct. 19, the latest pay period available, the city has paid Montgomery-Ford $110,469, Davis $75,751 and Ganster $122,820, mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty said.

Montgomery-Ford’s attorney, Sam Cordes, said the city hasn’t explained why his client is on leave.

“We never had any indication from anybody … that she’s a target of any investigation, and for good reason, she’s done nothing close to being illegal or wrong,” Cordes said.

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or [email protected].

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