Former Florida GOP Member Pleads Guilty to Covid Fraud Charges

A former Florida State Representative, known for sponsoring a law banning in-class discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s elementary schools, pleaded guilty Tuesday to fraudulently receiving tens of thousands of dollars from the federal Covid relief program.

At a hearing in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Republican Joseph Harding pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, money laundering and perjury stemming from a six-count indictment that was returned by a federal grand jury in December. .

The guilty plea before Judge Allen Winsor was an overruling of an earlier plea of ​​innocence by Harding, who resigned from his seat in the House of Representatives after he was indicted.

According to the new lawsuit, Harding, 35, admitted to making materially false statements when he applied for an economic damages loan in December 2020 for a company that was not doing business and was inactive at the time.

Harding fraudulently received $150,000 in Covid Relief funds from the Small Business Administration and then made three transfers, each including more than $10,000, to his joint bank account, to pay for his credit card, and to a bank account associated with the business structure, court documents show. .

Harding, first elected in 2020, previously said in a Facebook statement that he paid off “every penny” of the loan and that the time will come when he can tell his story.

“Mr. Harding made the best decision available to him under the circumstances to protect his family and his future,” Harding’s attorney, Peg O’Connor, said Tuesday. “We look forward to providing information at sentencing that will provide a more complete picture and provide some insight into who Mr. Harding is as a person.”

The Trump and Biden administrations have distributed about $5 trillion in Covid relief funds. Government Accountability Office data shows that the COVID-19 scam has been recovered for at least $2 billion, but some experts have estimated that the coronavirus scam could be worth more than a quarter of a trillion dollars.

While serving at the Florida Home, Harding sponsored a measure to ban “classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity” in the state’s elementary schools. The legislation, known to its critics as the “Don’t Talk About Gay” bill, was later signed into law by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.

Harding faces up to 20 years in prison on wire fraud charges, 10 years for money laundering and another five years for perjury.

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