10/07/2013 03:51 pm ET Updated Oct 07, 2013

Joe Lhota Wrote Recommendation For Politician Later Busted For Bribes


NEW YORK -- A letter of recommendation that New York City GOP mayoral nominee Joe Lhota wrote for a political ally who was buying an apartment contains high praise of his character. A decade later, that same politician admitted to accepting $800,000 in bribes.

Lhota described Ray Harding, the late head of New York's Liberal Party, and his wife, Elizabeth, as "people of absolute integrity" in a 1999 letter to a Riverdale co-op board. At the time, Lhota was a deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, who had been elected with Harding's backing. Harding's two sons also served in high posts in Giuliani's administration.

But in 2009, Harding's role as a power broker in city and state politics came crashing to an end in a corruption scandal. He was charged with taking kickbacks from investment firms that were seeking lucrative contracts with the state's pension fund. Former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi managed the fund. According to court documents, Harding did political favors for Hevesi as part of the scheme, which took place over the course of several years after Lhota wrote his recommendation letter.

The letter to the Riverdale co-op board, which is part of the archived material from Giuliani's two terms as mayor, was typed on official stationery from the mayor's office and signed by Lhota.

"I have known Ray and Liz Harding for the past 10 years on both a professional and social basis," the letter says. "I believe they will continue to be excellent assets to your building. Ray and Liz are people of absolute integrity and will be superb neighbors for your entire building."

Harding initially pleaded guilty to felony charges, but in exchange for cooperating with investigators, the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. He received a conditional discharge, which meant he would avoid prison as long as he stayed out of trouble with the law for a year. Hevesi was sentenced to four years in prison in 2010 as part of a large investigation into corruption in the state's pension fund.

Lhota's campaign did not respond to repeated inquiries from The Huffington Post about his relationship with the Hardings. He trails Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the Democratic nominee for mayor, by as much as 50 points in recent polls.

Ray Harding died in 2010 at 77. His son Robert, who served as one of Giuliani's deputy mayors alongside Lhota, did not respond to HuffPost's calls or emails.