Rep. Joseph B. Harding (R-FL.) is resigning after being indicted this week by a grand jury for attempting to fraudulently obtain more than $150,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds.
While he said he could not comment on the details of the case, the 35-year-old maintained that he repaid “every penny” of the loan he obtained.
The Justice Department announced on October 7 that Harding allegedly made fraudulent applications to the Small Business Administration with the names of dormant business entities, Harding Farms and the Vak Shack. Prosecutors are also saying he submitted falsified bank statements in the applications.
The indictment returned against Harding covers the six charges against him, including two counts each of wire fraud, making false statements, and money laundering. It alleged that he “falsely represented” that Harding Farms and the Vak Shack were active at a time they were not. To back up his false claims, he falsified the number of employees and gross revenue for the two entities.
Harding had told the government that Harding Farms had two workers and had earned $392,000 between January 2019 to January 2020. He also lied that the Vak Shack had four employees and earned about $420,000 during that period. However, authorities found that the two businesses had zero revenue and employees in that period.
The money laundering charge against Harding resulted from illegal bank transfers of $30,000 and $15,000, which he allegedly made in January and February 2021.
Trial on the case is scheduled to begin on January 11. Harding has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him. If found guilty, he faces up to 20 years in prison for the wire fraud charge, ten years for the money laundering charge, and five years for the charge resulting from the false statements he made to the federal government.
In response to Harding’s indictment, House Speaker Paul Renner (R-FL.) announced that he would be removing him from his committee assignments. Renner, in his statement, said that the removal was only temporary as Harding is “presumed innocent and will have the opportunity to plead his case before a court.”
However, the now-former representative left his position and will now go back to being a private citizen.
Harding is known for authoring Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, a legislation that left-wing critics call the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” The law prohibits any form of instruction or discussion about LGBTQ topics for students below fourth grade.