Ex-Florida GOP lawmaker Joe Harding who sponsored the Don’t Say Gay Bill was last week sentenced to four months imprisonment.
Former Florida representative Harding pleaded guilty to fraudulently applying for business loans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, Harding entered a guilty plea for wire fraud, a crime with a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. He pleaded guilty to money laundering and making false statements, acknowledging that he established bank accounts for two inactive businesses and used them to request pandemic relief loans from the Small Business Administration.
He was indicted on several charges which included: wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements.
Deception And Apology
During the court proceedings on Thursday, Harding offered apologies to his family, supporters, and the court, acknowledging that he held himself accountable.
“I want to express my remorse for the decisions and failures I’ve made,” Harding said.
The United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Jason R Coody condemned Harding’s actions, describing theft of “any amount of taxpayer funds” as “inexcusable”.
“The defendant’s deceptive acts of diverting emergency financial assistance from small businesses during the pandemic is simply beyond the pale. Today’s sentence both punishes the defendant’s criminal conduct and should serve as a significant deterrent to others who would selfishly steal from their fellow citizens to unlawfully enrich themselves,” Coody said in a statement.
Intentional Criminal Acts
In a press release by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, Harding was found to have fraudulently obtained $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funds from the SBA to which he was not entitled.
Following the acquisition of the EIDL funds, Harding conducted three monetary transactions each involving more than $10,000 in fraudulently obtained funds: a transfer to his joint bank account, a payment to his credit card, and a transfer into a bank account of a third-party business entity.
Prosecutors noted that Harding reimbursed the SBA within weeks of his initial meeting with law enforcement. However, federal prosecutors argued for Harding to be sentenced to prison as his “intentional criminal acts while serving as an elected state representative” signified a “betrayal of the public’s trust,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin M. Keen.
Don’t Say Gay Law
The ‘Don’t Say Gay Law’ (Parental Rights in Education Law) was signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in March 2022 and bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for students in kindergarten through third grade.
The legislation specifies that guidance on these topics cannot occur “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards”. The Florida Board of Education approved an extension to the law in April this year regarding the limitations on classroom instruction concerning sexual orientation and gender identity.
“This amendment prohibits classroom instruction to students in pre-kindergarten through Grade 3 on sexual orientation or gender identity. For Grades 4 through 12, instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited unless such instruction is either expressly required by state academic standards … or is part of a reproductive health course or health lesson for which a student’s parent has the option to have his or her student not attend,” the amendment stated.
Harding is expected to start his prison term on January 29, 2024. U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor also ordered for Harding to be placed on a two-year period of supervised release following his prison sentence.