- Former state representative Joe Harding was sentenced to 4 months in prison and 2 years of supervised release for defrauding the federal government, specifically for obtaining fraudulent coronavirus-related business loans.
- Harding, who previously sponsored a contentious bill regarding instruction on sexual orientation in schools, confessed to charges including wire fraud and money laundering after initially pleading not guilty.
- The case was investigated by multiple agencies including the FBI, IRS-Criminal Investigation, and the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General.
Former state representative Joe Harding was sentenced to 4 months in prison on Thursday following a six-count indictment for defrauding the federal government.
The sentence, issued by U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, also includes 2 years of supervised release. Per the order, Harding has until noon on Jan. 29th to turn himself in.
“The theft of any amount of taxpayer funds is inexcusable,” said U.S. Attorney Coody following the verdict. “However, the defendant’s deceptive acts of diverting emergency financial assistance from small businesses during the pandemic is simply beyond the pale. Today’s sentence both punishes the defendant’s criminal conduct and should serve as a significant deterrent to others who would selfishly steal from their fellow citizens to unlawfully enrich themselves.
Last December, Harding was indicted on a series of charges including 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. The prosecutors alleged that between December 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021, Harding committed two acts of wire fraud.
The indictment further contended that Harding fraudulently obtained coronavirus-related small business loans. In the process, it reads, Harding illegally “caused wire communications to be transmitted in interstate commerce.”
In March, despite his initial plea of not guilty and subsequent resignation from the Florida House, Harding confessed to wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements in a plea agreement. He acknowledged providing false information on the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan application for his company, The Vak Shak Inc., subsequently receiving $150,000 in disaster assistance.
The former state representative, who garnered national attention for championing a divisive bill that banned instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grade levels, repaid approximately $149,000 to the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) in 2021, as per court records.
“Harding also made a false and fraudulent SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) application, in the name of one of his dormant business entities, that he submitted to the SBA,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida said on Wednesday. “By this conduct, Harding fraudulently obtained $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funds from the SBA to which he was not entitled. After obtaining the EIDL proceeds, Harding conducted three monetary transactions each involving more than $10,000 in fraudulently obtained funds: a transfer to his joint bank account, a payment to his credit card, and a transfer into a bank account of a third-party business entity.”
According to a prior 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.
This is a developing story.