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On a website chat room for members of Harding's class of 1982 at Bronx High School of Science, several former classmates posted notes ridiculing his claims. "Have you guys heard that our favorite crook . . . is now trying to claim that he's innocent due to mental defect?" wrote one former student. "I have to agree on one level. He was manic when he had our tax dollars."
Another said, "I don't think that depression . . . or other claims that his lawyers are making on his behalf are making any psychological sense or even legal sense. I pray," the writer added, "on behalf of the truly depressed," that Harding's claims are rejected.
Michael Gelman, who was Harding's roommate during their freshman year at Clark University in Massachusetts, said he did remember Harding exhibiting "vicious mood swings" during his college years, but never thought him out of control. "We thought he was eccentric," said Gelman, who called the Voice after reading about Harding. "He could be a manipulator, a little sociopathic. Sometimes he would lie and contradict himself. But to say he didn't know right from wrong? I find that a dubious argument. I would have to say I disagree."
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Harding was a big spender in those days, too, Gelman recalled. He often "picked up the tab when we went out," Gelman said. "He liked to look like a generous person, but he always put himself first."
His former roommate was "meticulous" in his attire, Gelman said. Unlike most of the rest of the college crowd, Harding "always dressed immaculately. His clothes were pressed and dry-cleaned." Twice a month, Harding would travel to New York to get his hair cut, Gelman said.
The roommates lost touch for a while after college. Gelman said he didn't learn until later that Harding had dropped out in his final semester. But they ran into each other again in the early 1990s in Washington, D.C., where Gelman lived and where Harding had gotten a job through his father working for then senator Alfonse D'Amato. They went to a few nightclubs and dined together, and then, Gelman said, he had to make an emergency trip to Europe, where his mother had fallen ill. "I had this old Toyota, and I left it with Russ. He said he'd take care of it while I was away. But when I got back, I found out he had left it in non-running order, illegally parked in his neighborhood. I had to have it towed to a garage."
Gelman said he tried to reach Harding about the car. "I couldn't find him. He just wouldn't return my calls."