The Private Lives of Russell Harding

The Feds Enter the Picture

The JockCop7 screen name is listed on the e-mail directory as one of five names used by an R.A. Harding with the same home address as Russell Harding. Also listed for the same name and address are several other logons, including "Dadsons711," "Nyc1711," and "Edc16309." Prior to joining HDC, Harding worked for the city's Economic Development Corporation, commonly referred to by its initials, EDC.

Another ad, seeking "teenage muscle," was posted on a Web bulletin board called "Muscle-Minded Married Men" by the screen name.

According to Sawyers, Harding often spoke of his interest in sex with young boys during their chats, and spoke of plans to re-visit Thailand, where he had once taken a sex tour. This January, in his last days on the job, Harding booked a $10,000 trip to Southeast Asia, including several stops in Thailand, and billed it to the housing corporation. The reservation was later canceled after the Voice obtained Harding's travel records through a Freedom of Information request, and Harding later repaid the city for $500 in cancellation penalties.

Harding: walking the dogs on the East Side
photo: Keith Bedford
Harding: walking the dogs on the East Side

In a December 1999 exchange with Sawyers, Harding allegedly stated his interests directly: "I sometimes wonder if you fully understand that I'm a pedophile who needs yng boys to be totally happy." Sawyers responded in an e-mail, asking Harding not to discuss the issue with him. "I am willing to be your friend, but I really don't want any part of your personal life where boys are concerned. . . . I don't judge you or anything for who you are, but please understand I do not want a part of it."

Harding allegedly responded by saying he understood and they would remain friends. But Harding persisited. In May 2001, he expressed his frustration at not finding boys. "I'd love to find a kid in high school still though or younger . . . but [it's] just too risky looking for that yng anymore."

The chats depict Harding as someone who enjoyed impressing his friend, with his ability to give expensive gifts, at no cost to himself, as well as his easy access to power. Sawyers, who was raised in a conservative home in Virginia and has never been to New York, was easily impressed.

According to a September 22, 2000, chat, Harding casually mentioned that he was going to visit New Jersey casinos that weekend. "I got an old casket factory turned into low class apartments," he typed. "I made a few extra dollars on the deal with a couple of the contractors and they gave me the money on the deal the other day . . . so rather than declare it on my taxes I'm just gonna take it to the casinos tomorrow . . . [New Jersey] has a few good ones there."

The chat occurred two days after Harding presided over the ribbon cutting at a new apartment complex at the former Hygrade Casket factory on Brook Avenue in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. The project, originally launched with state funding, received $5.9 million in tax-exempt bonds from HDC to pay for construction and a $2.75 million permanent mortgage.

The project was developed by a local nonprofit organization, the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp., known as SOBRO, in partnership with a for-profit firm, L&M Equity Participants. L&Mis a development group that has forged strong political connections to both Albany and City Hall and won more than a dozen project financings from HDC during Giuliani's term. Ron Moelis, a principal in the firm, is also chairman of the Affordable Housing Political Action Committee, which has raised funds for state and city candidates. Moelis failed to respond to several messages.

If money changed hands, it wasn't the first time on the project, according to an indictment unsealed last month by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. In that case, Morgenthau charges that State Senator Guy Velella, along with Hector Del Toro, a former high-level state housing official, shook down the project's developers for campaign contributions and $4000 in legal business to Velella's law firm. Both Velella and Del Toro have pleaded not guilty.

Still, the executive director of SOBRO, Phillip Morrow, said Harding appeared to have little personal involvement with the project. "I never met him until after the project was done, on the day of the opening," said Morrow. That day, September 20, 2000, a story appeared in the Daily News quoting Morrow about the project and mentioning HDC's contribution, without citing Harding by name. When Harding arrived that day for the ribbon cutting, he was irate that he hadn't been mentioned in the story. According to two people who were present, Harding ordered Morrow removed from the dais and barred him from speaking at the ceremony.

"It was pretty absurd," recalled Morrow. "He took me off the agenda for the grand opening of my own building."

Making money was par for the course, Harding revealed in his chats with Sawyers. In a June 2001 exchange, Harding spoke about his father's working relationship with the mayor.

"My dad is always helping the mayor with projects for money making," typed Harding. Writing in his characteristic three-dot style, he added, "And the mayor is always helping my dad as well . . . he had my dad go over some contracts a while back about a company taking over the airports here . . . so not only in the long run will the mayor profit from it . . . but my dad already has with doing the contract . . . they both have a wash each other's back thing going."

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