Hard Time for Harding

Porn, coke, and embezzlement: A former Giuliani aide's shameful path to prison

Harding's attorneys countered that there was no evidence of any direct contact between their client and young boys. In the courtroom, Harding tried to persuade the judge the law was simply out of date. "This is where technology comes into conflict with the courts," he said. "Cyber means cyber," not action, he said. It was just talk, he insisted, nothing more. "At some points, I was having 20 chats at the same time," he said.

Failed by family and friends, he told Kaplan, he had nothing left. "I am destitute, loveless, and homeless," he said. "My future is zero, I came to terms with that. I will never lead an organization again."

When he was done, there was more back-and-forth between the lawyers, and then the judge voiced his own findings. Harding "raised as many doubts as he satisfied with his remarks this morning," Kaplan said. The defense's psychiatric claims, he said, were "excuses for conduct for which the defendant is fully responsible."

Russell Harding: A 63-month prison sentence for embezzlement and child pornography
photo: Keith Bedford
Russell Harding: A 63-month prison sentence for embezzlement and child pornography

The judge then told Harding to stand up.

"You have clearly betrayed the trust of the people of this great city, not to mention everyone who ever cared about you," he said. "All the more shocking and surprising, it is clear to me now for the first time how smart, talented, and articulate you are. You betray yourself as well as everyone else. It is in fact tragic."

The episode, Kaplan said, "proves to me once more a lesson I've learned in 11 years as a judge. No person is good or evil; all are good and evil." Yet these were "very serious" crimes deserving of "serious punishment." Harding, he said, should serve the maximum sentence, 63 months. He would have to repay $367,000 stolen from the city. Marshals led the prisoner to a side door. He never turned to look at the gallery. There was no one to say goodbye to.

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