School system hired ex-con

Man who taught after guilty plea in drug case also a convicted thief

June 20, 2006|By MATTHEW DOLAN AND CHRIS YAKAITIS | MATTHEW DOLAN AND CHRIS YAKAITIS,SUN REPORTERS

The Baltimore teacher who pleaded guilty to federal drug charges and then taught the entire school year had been a convicted thief before he was hired by the city school system four years ago.

Court records show that Martius Harding pleaded guilty in May 2001 to participating in an elaborate fraud using credit cards on the Internet, stealing tens of thousands of dollars worth of goods, including a late-model Jeep and two new motorcycles.

Harding, who had wrestled for West Virginia University before his felony arrest, was sentenced to five years' probation and an indeterminate period of home detention, according to the Monongalia County, W.Va., court clerk's office.

The next year, the Baltimore school system hired Harding as a special education teacher at Govans Elementary School.

Last week, in Baltimore, a federal judge sentenced Harding, 28, of Aberdeen, to serve seven years in prison for drug distribution after he was arrested in Cecil County carrying about 5 pounds of cocaine.

Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday that the school system should have done a better job checking into the background of its employees.

"It would certainly seem that there should have been some better oversight in place," the mayor said yesterday.

School system spokeswoman Edie House declined to comment on how Harding was hired and kept his job last school year, saying the issue is a personnel matter.

Harding, a former wrestling champion at McDonogh School, had taught at Govans Elementary School since 2002 but school administrators said his status had been in doubt because of the pending court case.

School officials have not said why a teacher with a drug conviction was allowed to continue to work with a class of emotionally disturbed fourth- and fifth-graders.

When asked about his background last week, the state said it had no record of a teaching certificate for Harding, a 28-year-old father of five.

The city school system responded that it had applied for a certificate for him more than a year ago and received word only last week that the application had been denied.

Harding's attorney said last week that his client will stay under home detention until he reports to prison this summer.

Attempts to reach Harding yesterday were unsuccessful. His mother, Stephanie Mack, allowed Harding to stay at her Baltimore house for some of the time he had been restricted to home detention since his 2005 arrest, according to court records. Reached by phone yesterday, she declined to talk about her son.

According to a court clerk, five people, including a school principal, sent letters of support to U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett on behalf of Harding.

Bennett reviewed the letters before imposing his sentence Friday, according to the attorneys involved in the case. The judge declined through an assistant yesterday to allow a reporter to see the letters.

Harding's conviction in West Virginia stemmed from a case in which police detectives said Harding stole credit cards over the Internet while he was at West Virginia University, according to reports in The Sun and the student paper, The Daily Athenaeum.

In 2001, local police recovered more than $40,000 in stolen or fraudulently obtained items from Harding and another classmate, who was also charged.

Items included a 2000 Jeep Cherokee, two Yamaha motorcycles and computer and other electronic equipment.

His arrest in Morgantown led to his dismissal from the university's wrestling team, according to reports in The Sun.

Since then, he has been involved in custody disputes with some of the mothers of his children, according to court records. In one filing, the mother of one of his five children accused him of having an "anger problem" and said he had been violent with her.

Harding said in court papers that he had been the sole financial supporter for his daughter, who had never lived with her mother.

Several neighbors at his former home in Timonium expressed shock yesterday at news of Harding's drug conviction, describing him as a doting father.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com chris.yakaitis@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Sara Neufeld and John Fritze contributed to this article.

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