Former Florida lawmaker who sponsored ‘Don’t Say Gay’ sentenced to prison for COVID-19 relief fraud

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The former Florida lawmaker who sponsored the controversial law critics call “Don’t Say Gay” was sentenced to six months in federal prison Thursday for defrauding a federal coronavirus relief loan program for small businesses.

Former state Rep. Joe Harding, a 36-year-old Republican, resigned in December after being charged with fraudulently obtaining more than $150,000 from the Small Business Administration in pandemic aid loans. He pleaded guilty in March to wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements in connection with COVID-19 relief fraud.

“The theft of any amount of taxpayer funds is inexcusable,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Coody in a news release. “However, the defendant’s deceptive acts of diverting emergency financial assistance from small businesses during the pandemic is simply beyond the pale.”

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According to court documents, Harding made false statements to the Small Business Administration while applying for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan for one of his dormant business entities. After obtaining $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funds, prosecutors said 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.

The Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program was designed to provide economic relief to small businesses experiencing a temporary loss of revenue.

Harding became nationally known last year over his sponsorship of a law that forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as well as material that is not deemed age-appropriate.

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