Pittsburgh Tribune | 2014

Published on April 1, 2014 by Brian Bowling

Former police chief Harper reports to federal prison in Illinois

The federal prison in Illinois where former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper is serving an 18-month sentence is a minimum security camp without a fence.

Harper entered prison just before noon on Tuesday, said Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons. He is housed at the camp next to a medium security prison in Pekin, Ill.

The Pekin camp is among the bureau’s least secure facilities, which often have no fences, Burke said.

“If they do, it’s more to mark a boundary than it is to provide security,” he said. “It’s more to keep people out.”

Harper, 61, of Stanton Heights pleaded guilty to conspiring to divert about $32,000 of public money into his pockets and failing to file federal tax returns. His attorney, Milton Raiford, could not be reached for comment.

Larry Levine, founder of Wall Street Prison Consultants, said Harper will face boredom.

“He’s going to be bewildered… his first day,” Levine said. “He’s not going to know what to expect. Nobody does.”

Levine, who refers to guards as cops, said he spent 10 years in 11 federal prisons for narcotics trafficking, securities fraud, racketeering, obstruction of justice and machine guns. He figured out the system and advised other prisoners.

Harper likely won’t be popular with inmates or guards, he predicted: Inmates won’t trust him, and guards will assign him the worst work details.

“Everybody hates cops; they do. The cops are the ones who put everybody inside,” Levine said. “The cops aren’t going to like him because he is a cop who broke the law.”

The camps have a lower staff-to-inmate ratio than higher-security facilities, and inmates have more freedom to move around, Burke said. They typically live in barracks-style rooms housing 100 or more men. Four-man bays, surrounded by 6-foot privacy walls, contain bunk beds, chairs and lockers.

Inmates have the same programs as those in more secure facilities but “fewer controls on their movement,” such as metal detectors, Burke said.

Each facility establishes visiting hours and regulations, Burke said.

At medium-security prisons, an inmate can have up to seven visitors at a time but is limited in the number of hours he can spend with visitors each month. Visiting days are Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

Burke would not discuss how the bureau classified Harper’s security risk, or why it chose the prison in Illinois. In general, it considers the potential for threats to an inmate’s safety, the threat he might pose to others and the likelihood he’ll attempt escape, Burke said.

Former Pennsylvania Attorney General Ernie Preate, who served 11 months in federal prison for mail fraud in 1995, didn’t want to talk about his experience because he’s trying to put it behind him. But he agrees with Levine’s advice to keep the mind and body active.

“If you work at it, your time will pass,” he said.

The bureau hasn’t calculated Harper’s release date, but it will assume that he’ll get 54 days off his sentence for good behavior, prorated, for every year — about 80 days for Harper.

“It’s his to lose,” Burke said.

The Pekin camp holds 328 people; the medium security prison, 1,104 people, according to the bureau’s website.

Among inmates serving sentences at the prison are Chicago businessman Tony Rezko, a top fundraiser for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Rezko is doing a 10-year stretch for fraud and related charges from a state contract kickback scheme.

Another Pekin inmate is former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella, serving 28 years for his “cash-for-kids” kickback scheme in which he handed down heavy sentences to juveniles who then were sent to a for-profit detention facility.