THE SECRET LIFE OF MATTHEW HARDEN

A rise from poverty to power, carefully edited.

FEW PEOPLE SEEM TO KNOW MATTHEW HARDEN WELL, He is extremely private and volunteers few details about himself without prodding.

Harden rose from a background of poverty in a rural area near Tyler to become one of the most successful African-American men in Dallas. Matthew Harden Sr. and his wife, Luberta, raised their eight children in a three-room farmhouse that had been in the family for generations. Matthew Jr., a middle child who was bom Jan. 10, 1955, regularly picked crops with the rest of the children until he reached the third grade, and his teacher insisted that Matthew stay in school. Harden made good on the promise she saw in him.

At Chapel Hill High, where his alcoholic father worked as a janitor, Matthew was on the yearbook staff, excelled at spoils, and served as 1973 senior class president. He also was voted “most handsome” and “most popular.”

He attended Tyler Junior College and graduated from the University of Texas in 1977. Harden is the only one of his family to earn a college degree. He says his eldest brother served in Vietnam and died of an illness in the 1980s. State records show that two of his younger brothers have served time in prison: Felix Alec Harden for burglarizing a motor vehicle and Jessie Wayne Harden for aggravated sexual assault with a deadly weapon.

Harden came to work at DISD at the suggestion of an uncle who is a principal in Seagoville; his cousin, with whom he lived for several years, is a teacher’s aide. Harden’s brother Odell also worked for the district as a temporary employee in maintenance. In July 1997. Odell and a co-worker had been pulling a 16-foot DISD trailer through East Dallas when it careened off the road and plowed through a homeowner’s fence. The two DISD employees vanished, and word that Harden’s relative had been involved soon made its way to Yvonne Gonzalez. When she confronted the CFO, he first told Gonzalez Odell was his cousin, then later admitted he was, in fact, his brother. Gonzalez says Harden pleaded with her to keep his brother on the payroll, but Odell was released.

Often described as a “divorced father of two,” Harden gives the impression that he has two sons from his marriage. On Dec. 30, 1978, Harden married 19-year-old Lavolia Annette Ford of Tyler. The couple separated on Nov. 30. 1979. though they did not divorce until Dec. 9,1988, when Lavolia remarried. But court records say no children were bom of the marriage, and Lavolia, who now lives in East Dallas, confirms they had no children.

According to records at the Tarrant County courthouse, the mother of Harden’s two sons, Matthew X. Harden 111 and Montriel V. Harden, is Melody Elaine Dawson of Grand Prairie, who bore the boys out of wedlock in 1987 and 1989.

Melody Dawson says she met Harden at a club. Together for nine years, they were engaged for seven before they broke up. The reason? “Women love him,” Dawson says. “They’re attracted to him like a magnet.”

In 1990, the Texas attorney general hied a “petition to establish paternity” against Harden, apparently the first step in obtaining child support for Dawson. Represented in the matter by State Senator Royce West, Harden at first filed a general denial, then an acknowledgment thai Matthew III and Montriel were his sons. The case was dismissed when Dawson failed to appear in court several times. The attorney general filed a second suit in 1991, but it was again dismissed because Dawson failed to appear. Dawson says she and Harden settled their differences, Harden sees his sons regularly and pays child support.

However, at least once, the boys were conveniently forgotten. In a mortgage application for his house in DeSoto dated Sept. 28, 1993, after he tiled documents acknowledging paternity. Harden declared he had “zero” dependents and was making no support payments-a violation of federal law. Perhaps if he disclosed the support, he might not have qualified for the financing. When asked about the form, Harden said, “1 don’t lie.” The document bears his signature.

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