By Anna Merlan
By Roy Edroso
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He's never been convicted of anything, but former Rudy Giuliani aide Russell Harding has already spent more than 10 months in federal prison as doctors tried to determine whether the moody former housing executivewho threatened suicide on the eve of trial last yearwas competent to face embezzlement charges. Last week, authorities offered their conclusion: He can cope.
In a hearing in Manhattan federal court, District Judge Lewis Kaplan announced that, based on a report he's received from doctors, he is prepared to rule that Harding should be tried on charges that he stole more than $250,000 from a city housing department and destroyed evidence to cover up the thefts. Kaplan gave defense lawyers until September 27 to submit arguments challenging the findings.
Harding is the son of Giuliani's onetime political mentor, former Liberal Party leader Ray Harding. He was appointed by Giuliani in 1998 as president of the city's Housing Development Corporation despite being a college dropout with no expertise in housing finance. While president, he awarded himself steady pay hikes and took junkets around the world, staying at posh resorts, at city expense.
Indicted in 2003, he argued that he suffered from a bipolar disability that prevented him from knowing right from wrong, an argument that was struck down by Kaplan. After the suicide threat, Harding's parents agreed to have him remanded to federal custody for his own protection while he underwent observation.