Former New York Official Faces Fraud, Child Porn Charges

From Associated Press

A former city housing official was accused Monday of owning child pornography and using public money to pay for personal items, including a car, DVDs of "The Sopranos" and a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon.

Russell Harding, who was director of the city's Housing Development Corp. in the administration of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, was arrested at his Manhattan home as federal prosecutors unsealed a six-count indictment.

It charges him with conspiracy, fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, and receiving and possessing child pornography. The indictment said that he had a child porn movie and 10 child porn images on his computer.

Harding, 38, pleaded not guilty and was released on $500,000 bail. U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan set a July 7 trial date.

Federal prosecutors said Harding's use of government money to finance his lifestyle ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"It's fair to say he was generous to a fault," U.S. Atty. James Comey told reporters. "Of course, the fault was that the money wasn't his. It belonged to the public."

From 1998 to 2002, Harding headed the HDC, a public benefit corporation receiving federal grants that encourages private investment in low-income housing.

The indictment accuses him of using his housing corporation Diners Club card to pay for expenses on personal trips to Hong Kong; Vancouver, Canada; and San Diego, and of using an HDC check to buy a $38,664 car intended for a friend.

Among the items he bought, the indictment said, were Palm Pilots, Cirque du Soleil tickets, video discs of HBO's "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City" and a subscription to Vanity Fair magazine.

Harding's attorney, Gerald Shargel, said Harding had been prepared to surrender, calling his arrest "somewhat brutish."

The charges carry a total of 45 years in prison, though the sentence would likely be less under federal guidelines if Harding were convicted.

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