Florida legislator, who sponsored ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, resigns amid federal fraud charges

TALLAHASSEE — A Republican Florida lawmaker, who authored the controversial law dubbed “Don’t Say Gay,” resigned Thursday, the day after he was indicted for defrauding the federal coronavirus loan program for small businesses.

In a lengthy post on Facebook on Thursday, state Rep. Joe Harding, R-Williston, said he was immediately resigning from his House seat and talked about his work representing his constituents. He declined to talk about the federal indictment against him.

“It has been a great honor to serve the people of this state and more specifically the people of Levy and Marion Counties,” Harding said. “However, due to legal issues that require my complete focus, it is my opinion that now is the time to allow someone else to serve my district.”

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner released the following statement upon receiving the resignation: “After further consultation with Representative Harding, I understand and respect his decision to submit his resignation.”

“The Florida House remains focused on next week’s all-important special session on property insurance, hurricane recovery, and toll relief,” Renner added.

Harding was the House sponsor of the Parental Rights in Education law, which restricts speech in public school classrooms about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Even before the law went into effect last summer, opponents said the legislation and its surrounding rhetoric contributed to a hostile environment for LGBTQ people.

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A federal grand jury returned a six-count indictment against Harding on Wednesday, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida.

The indictment alleges that, between December 2020 and March 2021, the legislator committed two acts of wire fraud by participating in a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration and for using “false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises” to obtain the federal loans.

The indictment claims he made false and fraudulent SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan applications, and used the names of dormant businesses in supporting documentation. He made bank statements for one of those dormant businesses, according to the indictment.

Overall, Harding allegedly sought to fraudulently obtain and attempt to obtain more than $150,000 in SBA funds.

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He is additionally charged with two counts of engaging in monetary transactions with funds derived from unlawful activity and two counts of making false statements to the SBA.

Wire fraud has a maximum sentence of 20 years, money laundering 10 years and making false statements five years.

In a posting to his Facebook page on Wednesday, Harding said he pleaded not guilty to the federal charges and said he “fully” paid the federal loan.

“I want the public and my constituents to know that I fully repaid the loan and cooperated with investigators as requested,” he said. “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.”

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He is scheduled to appear in federal court January 11 in Gainesville before U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor.

Per: Newsbreak

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