UPMC asks whether Ravenstahl destroyed evidence in city lawsuit

by: Alex Nixon, TribLIVE Updated:

PITTSBURGH - UPMC wants to know whether former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl removed evidence from his city-issued computer related to the city's legal battle with the hospital giant over its nonprofit status, according to a motion UPMC filed in federal court on Monday.

Ravenstahl took his work computer home before leaving office and kept it for about 10 days, which UPMC said might violate an order Ravenstahl signed in December agreeing to preserve evidence in the city's case against UPMC.

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Mayor Bill Peduto's administration reported the computer missing in January, and Ravenstahl returned it about a week later. Peduto's administration turned the computer over to the FBI because of an ongoing investigation of the city during Ravenstahl's term.

News reports “strongly suggest that Mr. Ravenstahl may have destroyed data from his computer during the week and a half that he took it home. His counsel has failed to provide any reasonable assurance that no such destruction occurred,” UPMC states in its filing with the U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh.

Peduto's office declined to comment.

Ravenstahl could not be reached. His attorney, Chuck Porter, said nothing was destroyed.

“He didn't trust the city administration, and there's no sinister reasons here,” he said. “Nothing was removed, nothing was deleted, no evidence has been destroyed. And that's the reality.”

He declined to answer questions about why Ravenstahl took the computer.

UPMC is asking the court to allow its attorneys to question Ravenstahl about what he did with the computer and to allow a computer forensic expert to examine it. Judge Joy Flowers Conti ordered Ravenstahl to preserve all electronic data before he left office.

Ravenstahl initiated the lawsuit against UPMC last year, soon after announcing that he would not seek re-election. The lawsuit challenges the hospital system's tax-exempt status and seeks payment of payroll and property taxes.

Meanwhile, the city appealed a state ruling that it turn over Ravenstahl's calendar to a lawyer representing UPMC. The city has said it cannot make public the former mayor's calender because it is part of a criminal investigation.

Downtown attorney William Pietragallo II, who represents UPMC, in November submitted a request to the city under the Right to Know Law to obtain Ravenstahl's calendar between June 1 and Dec. 31, 2013.

“It's part of the litigation process. It contains information that may support our case,” he said.

The city denied the request on Dec. 24, arguing that the calendar is exempt because it was obtained by the FBI in relationship to the federal investigation into the city's affairs.

Pietragallo appealed the city's decision to the state Office of Open Records in January. An appeals officer agreed on Feb. 18, ruling the calendar did not contain investigatory material, even though it may have been obtained as evidence in an investigation, and the city provided no evidence that the entries would reveal the progress of an investigation.

The city filed the appeal in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas last week, arguing that because Pietragallo failed to file his appeal with the district attorney's office — the agency that would determine whether Ravenstahl's calendar was “investigatory” — the city's decision should be considered final.

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Staff writers Melissa Daniels and Adam Brandolph contributed.