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The sponsor of a controversial Florida education law faces up to 35 years in prison

Joe Harding listening during a meeting
Phelan M. Ebenhack
/
AP
Florida state Rep. Joe Harding listens during a Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee hearing in a legislative session on Jan. 13, 2022, in Tallahassee. Harding has been indicted for defrauding a loan program offered by the federal government to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

Republican Joseph Harding pleaded guilty to charges including wire fraud and making false statements in connection with COVID-19 relief fraud.

The former Florida lawmaker who sponsored the controversial law critics call “Don’t Say Gay” pleaded guilty Tuesday to committing $150,000 in COVID-19 relief fraud.

Joseph Harding, a 35-year-old Republican, pleaded guilty in Gainesville federal court to wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements in connection with COVID-19 relief fraud, according to court records. He faces up to 35 years in prison at a hearing scheduled for July 25.

Harding resigned from the Florida House in December, a day after federal prosecutors announced his indictment.

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 is designed to provide economic relief to small businesses that are 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.