- State Rep. Joe Harding (R-Marion County) was indicted by a federal grand jury, which announced six charges on Wednesday, including obtaining loans under false pretenses
- Harding plead not guilty in federal court, saying that he has repaid the loans but won’t speak further about the matter
- House Speaker Paul Renner removed Harding from committee assignments pending the outcome of the case
- A trial is scheduled for January 11th, 2023, according to U.S. Attorney Jason R. Coody
State Rep. Joe Harding, 35, appeared in court and pled not guilty Wednesday after a federal grand jury returned a six count indictment against him. The charges included wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements in an alleged scheme to defraud the Small Business Association and obtain coronavirus-related business loans, according to federal prosecutors assigned to the Northern District of Florida.
After his appearance, Harding said in an emailed statement that he had fully repaid the loan and cooperated with investigators, but added he would not have more to say about the matter for the time being.
“On advice from counsel, I will be unable to say anything more specific about the legal proceedings until a later date and refer any questions or concerns related to this matter to my attorney. I ask that you keep me and my family in your prayers as we work for a fair and just resolution. Thank you, and may God bless you.”
In a press release, Jason R. Coody, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, said that Harding’s trial was scheduled Wednesday, January 11, 2023, at 8:30 a.m., at the United States Courthouse in Gainesville, Florida. United States District Judge Allen Winsor has been assigned the case.
First elected to the House from Marion County in 2020, Harding ran unopposed this year in House District 24. Last week, he was named vice chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee and the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee. Notably, he was one of the bill sponsors for the Parental Rights in Education Bill, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by Democrats, which passed last year and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Late Wednesday, Florida House Speaker Paul Renner issued a statement that Harding had been removed from all committee assignments.
“After consultation with Representative Harding regarding his indictment, I am temporarily removing him from his committee assignments to allow him time to focus on this matter,” the statement from Renner said. “In America we adhere to the rule of law, and as such, Representative Harding is presumed innocent and will have the opportunity to plead his case before a court. Since the indictment does not relate to any aspect of his legislative duties, any further questions should be directed to his legal counsel.”
The indictment alleges that between December 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021, Harding committed two acts of wire fraud by participating in a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA). The indictment also says Harding fraudulently obtained coronavirus-related small business loans. In the process, the indictment reads, Harding illegally “caused wire communications to be transmitted in interstate commerce.”
Harding is also alleged to have submitted “false and fraudulent” SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) applications, falsified information in loan documentation, submitted the names of dormant business entities, and “obtained fraudulently created bank statements for one of the dormant business entities which were used as supporting documentation for one of his fraudulent EIDL loan applications.”
Prosecutors also allege that Harding attempted to obtain more than $150,000 in funds from the Small Business Administration to which he was not entitled.
If found guilty, Harding faces maximum terms of imprisonment of up to 20 years for Wire Fraud, 10 years for Money Laundering, and 5 years for Making False Statements.
According to the release from the U.S. Department of Justice, the investigation was jointly conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Office of Inspector General, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Inspector General. The case will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Justin M. Keen and David P. Byron.