Updated Dec 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Florida lawmaker behind "Don't Say Gay" bill resigns after COVID aid fraud charges

The Department of Justice building in Washington, DC. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Florida lawmaker who sponsored the state's controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill resigned Thursday — a day after the Department of Justice announced he was indicted for COVID-19 relief fraud.

The big picture: Rep. Joe Harding (R-Williston) maintained that he repaid his loan after he was accused of fraudulently obtaining and attempting to obtain more than $150,000 in funds from the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Driving the news: A federal grand jury on Wednesday returned a six-count indictment against Harding, who said he pleaded not guilty, after being accused of fraudulently obtaining and attempting to obtain more than $150,000 in funds from the Small Business Administration (SBA), per a Department of Justice statement.

  • He was charged with two counts of wire fraud, two counts of making false statements and two counts of money laundering.

What he's saying: "Regarding the current legal matter, I cannot comment on the details of my case,” he said in the statement Thursday. "There will be a time when I can tell my story in detail, and I will."

  • "For now, let me reassure my constituents and the taxpayers that I repaid every penny of the loan I obtained."

Details: Harding, 35, is accused of committing two acts of wire fraud between Dec. 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021, by participating in a scheme to defraud the SBA and for obtaining coronavirus-related small business loans through "false and fraudulent pretenses," according to the DOJ.

  • He's also accused of causing wire communications to be transmitted in interstate commerce for the purpose of the executing the scheme.
  • Additionally, the indictment alleges that Harding made and caused to be made false and fraudulent SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan applications.
  • The Florida representative is further accused of making false representations in supporting loan documentation in the names of dormant businesses and obtaining fraudulently created bank statements.
  • Harding is also charged with two counts of engaging in monetary transactions with funds derived from unlawful activity and two counts of making false statements to the SBA.

What's next: Harding's trial is scheduled for Jan. 11.

  • The DOJ said that if convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years for wire fraud, 10 years for money laundering and five years for making false statements.

Editor's note: This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

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