Former Florida Republican lawmaker pleads guilty to COVID-19 aid fraud

Former Florida Republican lawmaker pleads guilty to COVID-19 aid fraud

GAINESVILLE — The former Florida lawmaker who sponsored the controversial appeal by critics of the “Don’t Say Gay” law pleaded guilty on Tuesday to committing $150,000 in COVID-19 relief fraud.

Joseph Harding, a 35-year-old Republican, pleaded guilty in federal court in Gainesville to wire fraud, money laundering and misrepresentation in connection with the COVID-19 relief fraud, court records show.

He faces up to 35 years in prison at a hearing scheduled for July 25.

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

According to court documents, Harding made false statements to the Small Business Administration when applying for an economic disaster loan for one of his dormant business entities.

After obtaining $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funds, prosecutors said Harding made three monetary transactions, each involving more than $10,000 in fraudulently obtained funds: a transfer to their joint bank account, a payment to your credit card and a transfer to a bank account of a third-party commercial entity.

The Economic Disaster Loan program is designed to provide financial assistance to small businesses that were experiencing a temporary loss of income.

Harding became nationally known last year for his sponsorship of legislation banning the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity to students in kindergarten through third grade, as well as materials not considered age appropriate.

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