Former Florida GOP legislator pleads responsible to Covid-relief fraud fees

A former Florida state consultant identified for sponsoring laws prohibiting classroom dialogue of sexual orientation and gender id within the state’s major faculties pleaded responsible Tuesday to fraudulently acquiring tens of 1000’s of {dollars} from a federal Covid-relief program.

At a listening to in U.S. District Courtroom for the Northern District of Florida, Republican Joseph Harding entered a responsible plea to a single rely every of wire fraud, cash laundering and making false statements, stemming from a six-count indictment that was returned by a federal grand jury in December.

The responsible plea, earlier than Decide Allen Winsor, was a reversal of an earlier not responsible plea from Harding, who resigned from his Home seat after he was indicted.

In line with a brand new courtroom submitting, Harding, 35, acknowledged making materially false statements when he submitted an software for an financial damage catastrophe mortgage in December 2020 for a corporation that had no enterprise exercise and was dormant at the moment.

Harding fraudulently obtained $150,000 in Covid reduction funds from the Small Enterprise Administration, and subsequently made three transfers every involving greater than $10,000 to his joint checking account, to pay his bank card, and right into a checking account linked to a enterprise entity, courtroom paperwork present.

Harding, who was first elected in 2020, beforehand mentioned in a press release on Fb that he had repaid “each penny” of the mortgage and {that a} time would come when he may inform his story.

“Mr. Harding made one of the best choice obtainable to him below the circumstances to guard his household and his future,” Harding’s lawyer, Peg O’Connor, mentioned in a press release Tuesday. “We sit up for presenting info at sentencing that can present a fuller image and provides some perception into who Mr. Harding is as an individual.”

The Trump and Biden administrations distributed about $5 trillion in Covid reduction funds. Figures from the Authorities Accountability Workplace present that not less than $2 billion in Covid-relief fraud has been recovered, however some consultants have estimated that coronavirus fraud may very well be greater than 1 / 4 of a trillion {dollars}.

Whereas serving within the Florida Home, Harding sponsored a measure prohibiting “classroom dialogue about sexual orientation or gender id” within the state’s major faculties. The laws, identified to its critics because the “Do not Say Homosexual” invoice, was later signed into legislation by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Harding faces a most of 20 years of imprisonment for the wire fraud cost, 10 years for cash laundering and a further 5 years for making false statements.

His sentencing listening to was scheduled for July 25 in Gainesville.

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