UNITED STATES NEWS

‘Don’t Say Gay’ lawmaker pleads guilty to COVID relief fraud

Mar 21, 2023, 3:48 PM

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The former Florida lawmaker who sponsored the controversial law critics call “Don’t Say Gay” pleaded guilty Tuesday to committing $150,000 in COVID-19 relief fraud.

Joseph Harding, a 35-year-old Republican, pleaded guilty in Gainesville federal court to wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements in connection with COVID-19 relief fraud, according to court records. He faces up to 35 years in prison at a hearing scheduled for July 25.

Harding resigned from the Florida House in December, a day after federal prosecutors announced his indictment.

According to court documents, Harding made false statements to the Small Business Administration while applying for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan for one of his dormant business entities. After obtaining $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funds, prosecutors said Harding conducted three monetary transactions, each involving more than $10,000 in fraudulently obtained funds: a transfer to his joint bank account, a payment to his credit card, and a transfer into a bank account of a third-party business entity.

The Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program is designed to provide economic relief to small businesses that are experiencing a temporary loss of revenue.

Harding became nationally known last year over his sponsorship of a law that forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as well as material that is not deemed age appropriate.

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‘Don’t Say Gay’ lawmaker pleads guilty to COVID relief fraud