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Harding's attorney, former John Gotti defense counsel Gerald Shargel, has denied that his client took any money from contractors. Developer Moelis also denied it. "I gave him nothing," said Moelis, who said he missed the ribbon cutting because of a scheduling conflict.
But the matter is one among many now being examined by the city's Department of Investigation and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney in a joint probe of Harding's activities that ranges from expense-account abuses to sending child porn over the Internet.
As for the firm of Fischbein Badillo, a spokesman for Raymond Harding said its dealings with the housing corporation were proper and the law firm never pressed HDC for business for its clients when Russell Harding was president. "There was no lobbying, and no contact with Russell Harding was ever made," said George Arzt, the spokesman.
Moelis said he retained Fischbein Badillo in the spring of 1998 at the urging of an old college friend who had joined the firm. "It was completely unrelated to Russell Harding," he said. When he realized the firm's connection to the corporation's new president, Moelis said he asked for guidance from the firm and HDC. "I was told it wasn't a problem," he said.
Harding's only involvement, said Moelis, was arranging ribbon cuttings for the projects. "He was very involved with the [public relations] aspect," he said. "He wasn't a numbers guy. He was someone you avoided."
It wasn't the first time the issue of potential conflict with his father's law firm arose for Harding. In his previous post with the Giuliani administration, Harding served as vice president for communications at the city's Economic Development Corporation, where more than a dozen Fischbein Badillo clients had business. In May 1997, a reporter called Harding to ask him how he was handling the matter.
"I'll tell you how I handle it," a clearly peeved Harding responded, and then rattled off the name and number of an aide who handled press calls. When the press spokesperson failed to respond, the reporter called Harding again. The vice president listened for a moment and then said, "We're not having this conversation." And hung up.
Related Stories by Tom Robbins:
"Low-Class Act: Russell Harding on Blacks, the Poor, and the Clintons"
"Bonus Baby: A Hefty Something Extra in Russell Harding's Last Paycheck"