GOP Ex-Legislator Pleads Guilty to COVID Relief Fraud


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Joseph Harding, a former Florida state lawmaker, has pleaded guilty to felony charges that alleged he committed fraud with COVID-19 relief funds. Harding was charged with wire fraud, money, laundering, and falsified statements.

Prior to his criminal charges, Harding was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2020, serving the 22nd district. A Republican, he made a quick impact in the legislature by sponsoring the Parental Rights in Education bill, known by its critics as 'Don't Say Gay'. He proposed an amendment to the bill that would require schools to out gay students to their parents, but this provision did not make it into the final text.

Harding was indicted on December 7th, and resigned his office the following day. He had been re-elected to his seat just weeks before criminal charges were handed down. According to prosecutors, Harding received $150,000 from the Small Business Administration, and then transferred large portions of it to his own bank account, to a credit card, and to another third-party bank account.

One these charges, Harding stands to be sentenced to up to 35 years in prison. Up to 20 years on his sentence could come from the wire fraud charge alone, with the money laundering posing up to ten years and the falsified statements carrying up to five.