NATIONAL NEWS

Former Florida lawmaker who sponsored ‘Don’t Say Gay’ sentenced to prison for COVID fraud

Oct 20, 2023, 10:08 AM | Updated: 10:29 am

FILE - Florida state Rep. Joe Harding listens during a Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Su...

FILE - Florida state Rep. Joe Harding listens during a Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee hearing in a legislative session on Jan. 13, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. Harding has been indicted for defrauding a loan program offered by the federal government to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The former Florida lawmaker who sponsored the controversial law critics call “Don’t Say Gay” was sentenced to six months in federal prison Thursday for defrauding a federal coronavirus relief loan program for small businesses.

Former state Rep. Joe Harding, a 36-year-old Republican, resigned in December after being charged with fraudulently obtaining more than $150,000 from the Small Business Administration in pandemic aid loans. He pleaded guilty in March to wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements in connection with COVID-19 relief fraud.

“The theft of any amount of taxpayer funds is inexcusable,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Coody in a news release. “However, the defendant’s deceptive acts of diverting emergency financial assistance from small businesses during the pandemic is simply beyond the pale.”

According to court documents, Harding made false statements to the Small Business Administration while applying for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan for one of his dormant business entities. After obtaining $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funds, prosecutors said Harding conducted three monetary transactions, each involving more than $10,000 in fraudulently obtained funds: a transfer to his joint bank account, a payment to his credit card and a transfer into a bank account of a third-party business entity.

The Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program was designed to provide economic relief to small businesses experiencing a temporary loss of revenue.

Harding became nationally known last year over his sponsorship of a law that forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as well as material that is not deemed age-appropriate.

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Former Florida lawmaker who sponsored ‘Don’t Say Gay’ sentenced to prison for COVID fraud