Politico

Florida Republican who sponsored ‘Don’t Say Gay’ indicted on Covid relief fraud charges

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A federal grand jury indicted Republican Florida state Rep. Joe Harding on multiple counts after authorities said he illegally obtained $150,000 in pandemic-related small business loans by allegedly using the names of dormant companies.

The indictment, unsealed Wednesday night, alleges that between Dec. 1, 2020 and March 1, 2021 Harding used the dormant companies on applications for loans on the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan applications, including using false bank statements as supporting documentation.

He faces two counts of wire fraud, two counts of engaging in monetary transactions because he transferred the loan money to two separate bank accounts and two counts of making false statements to the SBA.

Harding, 35, was formally indicted on Tuesday. He had a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, and was released on bond. The government did not request he remain in custody.

Harding, who is from Ocala, was first elected to the Florida House in 2020. He is best known as being the House sponsor for legislation that banned discussion of gender identity or sexual orientation in classrooms up until third grade. The bill, which opponents branded the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, sparked protests and got national attention.

In a statement Wednesday, Harding said he pleaded not guilty to the charges.

“I want the public and my constituents to know that I fully repaid the loan and cooperated with investigators as requested,” he said.

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