Diminished Capacity

Russell Harding Cleaned Up—but Didn't Know It

LaPadula has refused to answer Voice questions about his conduct or to say whether he has reimbursed the city.

Harding's motion papers don't directly address the child pornography charges. Instead, attorney Shargel is seeking to have that evidence—a computer disk containing 10 photos and a movie—thrown out of court altogether, a move that would sharply reduce the prison time Harding would face if convicted. The argument here is that the search warrant affidavit pertaining to the porn allegation was based on information from "a demonstrably unreliable source." The reference is to Fred Sawyers, a spurned former cyberpal who spent more than three years sharing often intimate thoughts with Harding from his home computer in Indianapolis.

Sawyers, 34, cooperated with authorities and shared copies of e-mails and online chats in which Harding allegedly talked about his expense account stunts. The search warrant affidavit refers to Sawyers as a confidential source who "is believed to be reliable because [his information] has been corroborated in numerous instances."

Walk-in job: The East Side storage facility where Harding had his agency rent a $4,500-a-year locker. He suffers a non-verbal learning disability, his lawyer says.
photo: Keith Bedford
Walk-in job: The East Side storage facility where Harding had his agency rent a $4,500-a-year locker. He suffers a non-verbal learning disability, his lawyer says.


More Tom Robbins Stories on Russell Harding:

"The Lush Life of a Rudy Appointee: How a Politically Tied Aide Spent $250,000 on Food, Fun, and Travel"

"More Lush Life of a Rudy Appointee"

"Party Harding"

"Harding's Hustle: Bonuses, Bargains, and Strip Clubs at the Housing Development Corporation"

"Low-Class Act: Russell Harding on Blacks, the Poor, and the Clintons"

"Bonus Baby: A Hefty Something Extra in Russell Harding's Last Paycheck"

"The Private Lives of Russell Harding"

"Where Are the Whistle-Blowers?"

"Harding's Conflict of Interest: After Pledging to Steer Clear of Dad's Law Firm, Son Aided a Client"

"Scandal Repair: As Harding Probe Continues, Cleanup Costs Grow"

"Russell Harding's Vanity Fair: 'Voice' Trail Led to Charges"

"The Harding Rules: In Scandal's Wake, New Safeguards at Housing Agency"

"The Heart of the Matter: A Former Internet Pen Pal's Mixed Feelings About Russell Harding "

"Ex–Giuliani Aide Admits Theft: Russell Harding's Deputy Cooperating in Probe"

"Harding's Collateral Damage: Bloomberg Drops the Hammer—Selectively"

Sawyers showed investigators (as well as the Voice) original copies of records showing that a $360 DVD player Harding sent to Sawyers in September 2000 was charged to his agency credit card. Agents were also able to confirm that Harding was in fact visiting places, such as San Diego and Las Vegas, at the same time that he was allegedly chatting about his travels with Sawyers. They also received confirmation from America Online that the screen names allegedly used by Harding in the chats (one was "JockCop7") were listed on Harding's AOL account.

Shargel, however, says the government "ignored startlingly obvious clues" that Sawyers was fabricating the chats. He points to an inconsistency, revealed last year by the Voice, in a September 2000 chat in which Harding allegedly badmouthed Bill Clinton for locating his office in Harlem. At the time, Clinton was still president and didn't make the move to Harlem until several months later. Sawyers said he assumed that he had somehow merged separate chats.

In addition, a computer forensics expert hired by Harding has offered an affidavit suggesting that manipulating the chats would be a relatively simple matter and that he had found inconsistencies in the computer-generated headings.

"If you can get a search warrant based on chat rooms and e-mails, then any person with a grudge can have anyone in America searched," Shargel told the Voice.

Sawyers insists the chats are authentic. "It would be awfully hard for me to make all that up, since I've never even been to New York," he said. For Harding's trial, however, the matter may be moot. Prosecutors have told the judge that they have no intention of using Sawyers as a witness or entering the chats as evidence at the trial, now scheduled for late September.

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