GOP lawmaker behind Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill charged with COVID aid fraud

The Republican Florida lawmaker behind the state’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill was indicted Tuesday on charges of fraud for his part in a scheme to defraud the government of COVID-19 relief funds.

State Rep. Joe Harding is charged with two counts of wire fraud, two counts of money laundering and two counts of making false statements to the Small Business Administration in connection with the scheme. federal grand jury indictment against him.

Prosecutors accuse Harding of using dormant companies to obtain more than $150,000 in pandemic-related loans from the Small Business Administration between Dec. 1, 2020 and March 1, 2021, and using false bank statements as supporting documents on his loan applications.

The 35-year-old state representative from Ocala was elected to the Florida House in 2020 and has sponsored legislation that would ban discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools through third grade.

State Rep. Joe Harding has been charged with fraud after he accused the government of participating in a scheme to defraud the government of COVID-19 relief funds.
AP/Phelan M. Ebenhac

The law, derided by liberals as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, sparked protests and was opposed by Disney, Central Florida’s largest employer. The bill was signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) in March 2022.

Harding, who is free on bond, will appear before District Judge Allen Winsor at the federal courthouse in Gainesville, Florida, in a hearing scheduled to begin early next year.

The charges against Harding carry up to 70 years in prison.


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