Ex-Florida lawmaker, ‘Don’t Say Gay’ sponsor, pleads guilty to fraud charges
Former Florida state Rep. Joseph Harding (R), a lead sponsor of the controversial so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to numerous charges for his involvement in a COVID-19 relief fraud scheme.
In a Department of Justice (DOJ) news release, authorities said that Harding, a one-term congressman, pleaded guilty to wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements in connection with COVID-19 relief fraud.
According to court documents, his scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA) — including making false claims to obtain coronavirus-related loans and committing wire fraud — garnered him $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funds and more than $30,000 in other fraudulent monetary transactions.
For SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) applications, he used the names of dormant business entities to apply, the court documents revealed.
Harding, 35, was indicted in early December on two counts of wire fraud, two counts of money laundering by transferring the allegedly stolen funds and two counts of making false statements to the SBA.
He was also the lead sponsor of the Parental Rights in Education bill, often referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prohibits state educators from talking about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grades and gives parents the ability to sue school districts who violate the measure.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the bill into law last year.
Harding faced up to 35 years in prison based on the combination of maximum sentences he has on his numerous charges, according to the DOJ news release. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 25.
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