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Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ lawmaker indicted on fraud and money laundering charges

Florida Rep. Joe Harding sponsored the 'Don't Say Gay' bill
Rep. Joe Harding (Photo: Twitter)

The author of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, GOP Rep. Joe Harding faces big legal trouble.

The Department of Justice yesterday said the 35-year-old lawmaker faces six indictments relating to pandemic-era fraud.

It claims he swindled thousands of dollars in coronavirus relief loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA).

In a statement detailing the charges, the DoJ said, “Harding fraudulently obtained and attempted to obtain more than $150,000 in funds from the SBA to which he was not entitled.”

Harding faces two counts of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering. There are a further two counts of making false statements to the SBA.

A trial date is set for Wednesday, January 11, 2023. The maximum term for wire fraud is 20 years, 10 years for money laundering, and five years for making false statements.

Related: ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill is passed by Florida’s House

Rep. Harding responds to indictments

Harding has deleted his Twitter account following the DoJ statement.

However, he posted a message to his Facebook. He said he pleaded not guilty at an initial hearing.

“Today, I pleaded not guilty to federal charges that state I improperly obtained and used an EIDL loan issued by the Small Business Administration. I want the public and my constituents to know that I fully repaid the loan and cooperated with investigators as requested.

“On advice from counsel, I will be unable to say anything more specific about the legal proceedings until a later date and refer any questions or concerns related to this matter to my attorney. I ask that you keep me and my family in your prayers as we work for a fair and just resolution. Thank you, and may God bless you.”

Rep. Harding was the author of HB 1557, the ‘Parental Rights In Education’ bill better known as ‘Don’t Say Gay’. The legislation became law in the summer. It bars educators from talking to younger students about anything related to LGBTQ people. Advocates for child safety and LGBTQ rights, and teachers unions, have criticized the legislation.

Besides the successful passage of HB 1557, Harding is not having a great year. In March, a tornado hit his home in Ocala.

Related: Tornado hits home of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ lawmaker