Disgraced former Florida state Rep. Joe Harding (R-Ocala) pleaded guilty to wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements in a scheme on Tuesday for scamming more than $150,000 in Covid-19 relief funds.
Harding. the author of the state’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, allegedly falsified documents when applying for federally funded loans.
“Court documents reflect Harding devised a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA) and obtained coronavirus-related small business loans by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, and while executing such scheme, caused wire communications to be transmitted in interstate commerce,” – The Department of Justice wrote in a press release.
According to the DOJ, Harding secured the ill-gotten gains after applying for relief via an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).
The ex-GOP representative reportedly used the money to pay off a credit card and deposited more than $10,000 each into joint and third-party bank accounts.
The hard-line conservative originally pled not guilty, though he resigned from his political post in December.
“In pleading guilty, defendant acknowledges that were this case to go to trial, the government would present evidence to support the charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” the agreement said according to the Tampa Bay Times.
In the 2020 application, Harding lied when he said his company Vak Shak, Inc. had revenue of over $420,000 and four employees.
Records show there was no activity for the reported business since 2019 – a fact that the former politician allegedly was well aware of when making the claims.
Harding has been a controversial figure, to say the least.
In addition to authoring a bill seen as discriminatory by LGBTQ advocates, the Republican has been vocal about banning sex education and discussions about gender identity in lower grade levels.
The former representative is facing a combined 35 years in prison for his actions – the single count of wire fraud itself carries a maximum 20-year sentence.
Sentencing is scheduled for July 25, 2023.
Original reporting by News Service of Florida in The Tampa Bay Times.
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