Lawmaker Who Sponsored ‘Don’t Say Homosexual’ Regulation Charged With Pandemic Help Fraud

MIAMI — A Republican state lawmaker from Florida who sponsored a legislation that critics have nicknamed “Don’t Say Homosexual” was indicted for defrauding a federal mortgage program designed to assist small companies throughout the coronavirus pandemic, federal officers mentioned on Wednesday.

State Consultant Joe Harding of Ocala, Fla., illegally obtained or tried to acquire greater than $150,000 in pandemic loans from the Small Enterprise Administration for 2 company entities that had been dormant till he utilized for the funds, in accordance with a six-count federal indictment. He was charged with two counts of wire fraud, two counts of creating false statements and two counts of cash laundering.

Mr. Harding, 35, who was first elected in 2020, sponsored laws this 12 months prohibiting classroom instruction and dialogue about sexual orientation and gender id in decrease elementary faculty grades. The legislation, titled “Parental Rights in Training,” gained nationwide consideration from L.G.B.T.Q. teams that feared it could have a chilling impact amongst lecturers and younger college students.

Mr. Harding, a house well being government, mentioned in a press release that he had pleaded not responsible throughout an preliminary court docket look on Wednesday. He was launched on bond, and a trial is scheduled for Jan. 11 in Gainesville, Fla.

“I need the general public and my constituents to know that I absolutely repaid the mortgage and cooperated with investigators as requested,” he mentioned.

Federal authorities have charged greater than 1,500 individuals with defrauding pandemic packages as of this summer season, and greater than 450 have been convicted.

In an try and qualify for pandemic loans, Mr. Harding stuffed out fraudulent functions on behalf of two company entities underneath his title, the Vak Shack Inc. and Harding Farms LLC, the indictment mentioned.

In mortgage functions, supporting paperwork and emails, Mr. Harding claimed that the entities had been energetic companies in 2019 and 2020, the indictment mentioned. For the Vak Shack, he listed a gross income of greater than $420,000 within the 12 months earlier than the appliance, practically $33,000 in items offered and 4 staff. For Harding Farms, he listed a gross income of $392,000 and two staff.

However the companies had, in reality, been dormant from March 2017 to December 2020, the indictment mentioned, and Mr. Harding sought to reinstate them solely within the days main as much as his functions for the pandemic loans.

He additionally “knowingly obtained fraudulently created financial institution statements” for September and October 2020 for Harding Farms as supporting paperwork for the mortgage utility, the indictment mentioned, and opened financial institution accounts at Chase Financial institution for the federal authorities to deposit the pandemic loans. In January and February 2021, he made two financial institution transfers from Chase accounts, one for $30,000 and one other for greater than $15,000, the indictment mentioned.

After consulting with Mr. Harding on the costs, Paul Renner, the Republican speaker of the Florida Home of Representatives, quickly eliminated Mr. Harding from his committee assignments on Wednesday “to permit him time to give attention to this matter,” Mr. Renner mentioned in a press release.

David A. Fahrenthold contributed reporting. Sheelagh McNeill contributed analysis.

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