- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — An elementary school special-education teacher kept his job while awaiting sentencing on drug charges, receiving letters of support from a school principal and others.

Martius Harding, who was hired in 2002 despite being on probation for an unrelated West Virginia case, was later arrested in Cecil County while carrying about five pounds of cocaine.

In the drug case, a school principal and four others sent letters of support to U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett on Harding’s behalf, the Baltimore Sun reported yesterday.

Harding, 28, was sentenced last week in Baltimore to seven years in prison for drug distribution.

The case is the latest embarrassment for the financially and academically ailing city school system, whose chief executive resigned Monday.

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

“It would certainly seem that there should have been some better oversight in place,” said Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat running for governor.

Harding, who was hired as a special-education teacher at Govans Elementary School in 2002, pleaded guilty in May 2001 to charges stemming from an elaborate fraud scheme in West Virginia.

The scheme involved credit cards on the Internet and the theft of tens of thousands of dollars worth of goods, including a late-model Jeep and two new motorcycles, according to court records.

Harding was sentenced to five years’ probation and an indeterminate period of home detention, according to the Monongalia County, W.Va., court clerk’s office.

He is a former wrestling champion at the McDonogh School in Baltimore who also wrestled for West Virginia University before his felony arrest.

School system spokeswoman Edie House declined to comment on Harding’s hiring and continued employment, saying the issue is a personnel matter.

State officials said they did not have any record of a teaching certificate for Harding, a father of five.

City school officials said the system had requested a certificate more than a year ago and received word last week that the application had been denied.

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