Former Florida GOP MP pleads guilty to COVID-19 fraud

March 22 (UPI) — A former Florida Republican legislator known for sponsoring the so-called “Don’t Talk About Gay” bill has pleaded guilty to embezzling tens of thousands of COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government.

Joseph Harding, a 35-year-old former House Representative for Florida’s District 24, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of wire fraud, money laundering and perjury, the Justice Department said. said.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. July 25, when Harding faces a maximum sentence of 20 years for wire fraud, 10 years for money laundering and five years for perjury.

Harding’s attorney, Peg O’Connor, told CNN. statement that her client “made the best decision available to him under the circumstances to protect his family and his future.”

Harding resigned in December after a federal grand jury indicted him on six counts of a scheme he used to defraud the Small Business Administration.

Prosecutors said the scheme involved him using his dormant business to file false documents with the SBA’s COVID-19 Economic Injury Program, which was created to help small businesses weather the pandemic.

Court documents state that he received $150,000 as a result of this action.

After receiving the funds, prosecutors said he transferred the money to a joint bank account and to a third-party business, and used it to pay for his loan car, adding that each transaction was worth more than $10,000.

Harding gained national attention early last year after sponsoring House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education Act, which restricted what LGBT education educators could discuss with their students in school.

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