“Don’t Say Gay” Author Resigns Office Amid Fraud Charges

December 9, 2022

State Rep. Joe Harding (R) of Florida, author of the state’s controversial so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, resigned from office Thursday, one day after he was indicted for defrauding the federal coronavirus small business loan program.

Harding posted on Facebook that he was stepping down immediately. He declined in his lengthy post to discuss the federal indictment brought against him, saying simply, “[D]ue to legal issues that require my complete focus, it is my opinion that now is the time to allow someone else to serve my district.”

The indictment alleges that between December 2020 and March 2021, Harding committed two acts of wire fraud via a scheme using “false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises” to obtain the federal loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA).

The indictment claims he made false and fraudulent SBA loan applications and used the names of dormant businesses in supporting documentation. The indictment also alleges that he made bank statements for one of those dormant businesses.

Overall, Harding is charged with seeking to fraudulently obtain and attempt to obtain more than $150,000 in SBA funds.

He is additionally charged with two counts of engaging in monetary transactions with funds derived from unlawful activity and two counts of making false statements to the SBA.

Wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, money laundering 10 years and making false statements five years.

He’s scheduled to appear in federal court in Gainesville January 11.

Harding was the Florida State House sponsor of the Parental Rights in Education law, popularly known as “Don’t Say Gay.” It restricts speech in public school classrooms about sexual orientation and gender identity, prohibiting it altogether in grades kindergarten through 3rd.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the bill into law in late March.

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