Florida lawmaker accused of fraudulently obtaining coronavirus-related loan

A Florida lawmaker is accused of defrauding a federal coronavirus loan program for small businesses.  

A federal grand jury returned a six-count indictment against Rep. Joseph Harding, of Williston, alleging he illegally obtained or tried to obtain more than $150,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA). The indictment was announced on Wednesday by Jason R. Coody, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

The indictment alleges that, between Dec. 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021, Harding committed acts of wire fraud in a scheme to defraud the SBA. The indictment also alleges that Harding made and caused to be made false and fraudulent SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) applications through false representations in supporting documents, including fraudulently created bank statements for a dormant business entity. 

Harding, a Republican, became nationally known this year over his sponsorship of a controversial 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. Critics referred to the Parental Rights in Education Law as the "Don’t Say Gay" bill.  The Republican speaker of the Florida House of Representatives has temporarily removed Harding from his committee assignments in the Legislature.

Harding, 35, is charged with two counts of wire fraud, two counts of money laundering, and two counts of making false statements. He could face up to 35 years in prison based on the maximum terms for the alleged offenses.

The trial for Harding is scheduled for Wednesday, January 11, 2023, at 8:30 a.m., at the United States Courthouse in Gainesville, Florida, before the Honorable United States District Judge Allen Winsor.