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Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' Author Sentenced on Fraud Charges

Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' Author Sentenced on Fraud Charges

Joe Harding
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Former Florida Rep. Joe Harding will serve four months in federal prison.

The disgraced legislator who wrote Florida’s “don’t say gay” law will now serve four months in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor sentenced former Florida Rep. Joe Harding Thursday, nearly seven months after the Republican politician pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements to investigators.

The judge ordered Harding to serve four months in federal prison followed by two years of probation. Harding resigned from the Florida legislature after he was indicted for defrauding federal loan programs intended to help business owners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prosecutors say he obtained $150,000 in loans from the Small Business Administration for companies that no longer operated and applied some of the money directly toward credit card debt or transferred it into personal accounts.

“The theft of any amount of taxpayer funds is inexcusable,” U.S. Attorney Jason Coody said in a press release. “However, the defendant’s deceptive acts of diverting emergency financial assistance from small businesses during the pandemic is simply beyond the pale. Today’s sentence both punishes the defendant’s criminal conduct and should serve as a significant deterrent to others who would selfishly steal from their fellow citizens to unlawfully enrich themselves. With our law enforcement partners, we remain committed to investigating and prosecuting those who engage in acts of COVID-19 related fraud.”

Harding drew national attention after he authored the much-maligned “don’t say gay” law in Florida, which initially forbade public school teachers from teaching about gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade. Since Harding left the legislature, the Florida Board of Education extended the ban through high school, and the legislature grew the statutory ban through eighth grade.

Investigators said it was important that Harding’s sentence serve as an example to others who consider defrauding government programs intended to help those in dire situations.

"Mr. Harding egregiously betrayed the public trust by stealing from COVID relief funds meant to help the very people who elected him.,” said Special Agent in Charge Brian J. Payne, IRS Criminal Investigation, Tampa Field Office. “Greed and public service should never meet, but when they do, we stand ready to ensure bad actors are held responsible for their actions.”

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