A federal grand jury indicted Republican Florida state Rep. Joe Harding, who sponsored the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, for Covid business relief fraud and money laundering, the justice department announced on Wednesday.
Harding illegally obtained or tried to obtain more than $150,000 in pandemic loans from the Small Business Administration by using the names of two dormant companies and using false bank statements as supporting documentation, according to a six-count federal indictment.
The indictment alleges that between Dec. 2020, and March 2021, Harding participated in a “scheme to defraud” the Small Business Administration (SBA) and obtained coronavirus-related relief fund under false pretenses. He is charged with two counts of wire fraud, two counts of money laundering, and two counts of making false statements.
Harding, was first elected to the Florida House in 2020, and was one of the chief architects behind the Parental Rights in Education Act, which bars educators from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation in classrooms up until third grade. The legislation, which was branded the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and signed into law in March by Governor Ron DeSantis, caused a national uproar. The Trevor Project condemned the bill saying the law erases “LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.”
Republican House Speaker Paul Renner said Wednesday that Harding was temporarily removed from his committee assignments “to allow him time to focus on this matter”.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI, the IRS-Criminal Investigation, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Office of Inspector General, and the SBA Office of Inspector General. The trail is set for Wednesday, Jan. 11. Harding faces a maximum of 35 years in prison.