Florida Rep. Joseph Harding (R) made headlines earlier this year by sponsoring the Parental Rights in Education bill otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) supported the legislation and signed it despite pushback from Florida Democrats.
However, the bill is now embroiled in even further controversy as Rep. Harding has been indicted on multiple fraud charges.
Harding has been indicted for allegedly attaining tens of thousands of dollars in COVID-relief funds according to authorities.
The Florida Republican faces six counts of wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements among other crimes. The attorney’s office for Northern Florida made the announcement this week through a press release.
According to the press release, Harding pursued COVID-relief loans for two companies, Harding Farms and Vak Shack Inc. The press release informs “that Hardin fraudulently obtained and attempted to obtain more than $150,000 in funds from the SBA to which he was not entitled.”
In response to the indictment, Democrats have taken to social media to slam the GOP member, taking aim at the Republican Party in the process.
Florida Rep. Anna V. Eskamani (D) shared her thoughts on Twitter, announcing that she was "not surprised" that Harding would get indicted. "Gotta love the irony of Republicans who attack the federal government and commit fraud to get federal money," she wrote, questioning whether "the GOP was against 'government handouts.'"
The sponsor of the #DontSayGay bill is being indicted — NOT SURPRISED! But gotta love the irony of Republicans who attack the federal government and commit fraud to get federal money!!
I thought the GOP was against “government handouts” LOL!!!! https://t.co/tpQ54rqqGm
— Rep. Anna V. Eskamani 🔨 (@AnnaForFlorida) December 7, 2022
Sharing the press release from Attorney Jason R. Cody, Florida Rep. Carlos G. Smith (D) further expressed that this is "not the first time he lied to and defrauded the public."
The sponsor of Florida's Don't Say LGBTQ law has been indicted and it's not the first time he lied to and defrauded the public. pic.twitter.com/jaiPclsSBU
— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@CarlosGSmith) December 7, 2022
Court records indicate that Harding maintains his innocence, and his trial is scheduled to begin in January. If Harding found guilty, he will face five years for making false statements, 10 years for money laundering, and 20 years for fraud.
Harding put out the following statement, asserting his innocence and stating that the had repaid the loan in fu
“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.”