Florida's ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Author Pleads Guilty to Federal Fraud Charges
The legislator behind Florida’s infamous “don’t say gay” law has pleaded guilty to fraud charges. Now he could land in federal prison for decades.
Former Florida Rep. Joe Harding pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Gainesville, Fla., to charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements. The charges stem from Harding obtaining $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funds.
He was indicted by federal prosecutors in December and resigned his seat in the Florida House of Representatives the following day.
Now he could face serious time in federal prison. Harding faces up to 20 years for committing wire fraud, 10 for money laundering, and another five for making false statements. U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor will decide on his sentence. A hearing is scheduled in Gainesville on July 25.
Before his arrest, Harding generated national attention as the author of a Florida bill signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis almost a year ago. Officially titled Parental Rights in Education, the legislation forbids instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade, and requires age-appropriate instruction through 12th grade.
The Florida Legislature is considering expanding the full ban through eighth grade.
After U.S. Attorney Jason Coody announced Harding had changed his plea, prosecutors revealed, through new court filings, details of Harding’s crime. The Republican politician allegedly devised a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration and obtained a small business loan on false premises from funds intended to help businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prosecutors say he later submitted a fraudulent application for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan in the name of a dormant business he once owned.
Documents show that after obtaining $150,000 in fraudulent loans, he transferred more than $10,000 to a personal bank account, paid a credit down by another more than $10,000, and also wired $10,000 to a third-party business vendor.
He was busted following a joint investigation by the FBI, FDIC, IRS, and SBA.