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The Florida lawmaker behind the state's infamous "don't say gay" bill now faces charges of wire fraud and money laundering.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in North Florida on Monday released a six-count indictment against Florida Rep. Joseph Harding.
U.S. Attorney Jason Coody, an appointee of Attorney General Merrick Garland, announced charges against Harding. Federal prosecutors allege Harding committed two acts of wire fraud in an effort to defraud the Small Business Administration when he obtained small business loans related to the coronavirus pandemic under false pretenses.
The Williston, Fla., lawmaker earned national notoriety as the author of the so-called Parental Rights in Education law.
The legislation bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation completely in kindergarten through third grade, and restricts educators from teaching about the subjects "in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards." Harding maintained the law will not completely prohibit discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in schools but will empower parents to determine the values instilled in their children.
The indictment, reported first byFlorida Politics, appears unrelated to Harding's political activity.
Prosecutors say he lied in SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan applications and made false representations in documents using the names of dormant businesses. An indictment asserts Harding went so far as to create fake bank statements for one dormant business to use as a supporting document in an EIDL application.
Prosecutors say Harding wrongly obtained or attempted to receive more than $150,000 from the SBA.
He also faces two charges related to transferring the unlawfully obtained dollars into two separate bank accounts. He was also indicted for making two false statements to authorities.
Harding faces up to 20 years in prison for both counts of wire fraud, 10 years each for the two money laundering charges, and five years for each charge of making false statements if he is found guilty.
A federal trial is scheduled to begin January 11 in Gainesville, Fla.
A release from the Justice Department says prosecutors worked in concert with the SBA, FBI, IRS, and FDIC Inspector General's Office.
Harding released the following statement:
"Today, I pleaded not guilty to federal charges that state I improperly obtained and used an EIDL loan issued by the Small Business Administration. I want the public and my constituents to know that I fully repaid the loan and cooperated with investigators as requested.
"On advice from counsel, I will be unable to say anything more specific about the legal proceedings until a later date and refer any questions or concerns related to this matter to my attorney. I ask that you keep me and my family in your prayers as we work for a fair and just resolution. Thank you, and may God bless you."