Pittsburgh police chief failed to file income taxes from 2008-2011, facing charges

Pittsburgh's former police chief Nate Harper may lose his pension, but that's the least of his worries. At least the place where he may soon be living won't charge rent.

Harper was indicted on charges on Friday on accusations that say he diverted police department money into a secret account for several years. He then, allegedly, used funds from that account for more than $30,000 for things like a new HDTV, high-priced restaurants and an XM radio. Harper resigned on February 20 this year as an investigation in to the department and his actions was underway.

The icing on the cake: That was income, legal or not, and so he was charged for failure to file federal tax returns for tax years 2008 through 2011.

While records show that he did have income taxes withheld from his paychecks during those years, and those funds were remitted to federal and state tax authorities, Section 7203 of the Internal Revenue Code legally requires most income earners to file a return. However, a conviction for "failure to file" is a misdemeanor that brings a lower potential punishment than filing an income tax return known to be fraudulent.

In cases where people didn't owe taxes and didn't file, there are generally no repercussions, aside from having to prove that to investigators or in court. But in Harper's case, there was unreported, illegal income and, likely, taxes owed. Remember how the federal government finally prosecuted Al Capone? Unpaid taxes.

"The chief's explanation has to do with some personal issues and procrastination," Robert Del Greco told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Del Greco is one Harper's attorneys, and then cited deaths in the Harper family and a fatal shooting incident involving officers in 2009 as events that had disrupted the chief's life and attention, and had led to him failing to file returns.

This isn't Harper's first tax-related snafu. In 2006, shortly after his selection as chief of police, it came out his home had been subjected to several liens for property tax delinquency. Even during his seven-year term, he was slapped with 13 tax actions related to his home.

"He willfully chose not to file his income tax returns for four years," IRS Special Agent in Charge Akeia Conner tol the Post-Gazette. "No public official gets a free pass to ignore the tax law."

If convicted on the tax charges, Harper would likly face 10-16 months in prison, according to sentencing guidelines that judges generally follow. However, the judge may view his failure to file as part of a larger criminal act, for which Harper could receive up to four years in prison - one year for each failure to file - as well as being required to pay the past-owed taxes with penalties and interest.