Former State Rep. Joe Harding guilty of wire fraud, money laundering, making false statements

by | Mar 22, 2023


  • Former state Rep. Joe Harding pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements in a scheme to obtain pandemic-related business loans.
  • Harding admitted to making false statements on the application for a federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan for his company, The Vak Shak Inc., and received $150,000 in disaster assistance.
  • Harding paid about $149,000 in restitution to the federal Small Business Administration and is awaiting sentencing on July 25.

Former state Rep. Joe Harding on Tuesday pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements in a scheme to obtain pandemic-related business loans. Harding, R-Ocala, was indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts each of wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements and was accused of trying to defraud the Small Business Administration.

Harding resigned from his House seat after pleading not guilty in December to the charges. But in a plea agreement filed Tuesday, Harding admitted to one count each of wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements. “In pleading guilty, defendant acknowledges that were this case to go to trial, the government would present evidence to support the charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” the agreement said.

According to a court document filed Tuesday, Harding made “materially false statements” when he applied for a federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan for The Vak Shak Inc. in December 2020. Harding falsely claimed that the company had four employees and gross revenues of more than $420,000 for a year before submitting the application. The company did not have any business activity in 2019 or 2020, and “Harding knew that this business had been dormant during that time,” the court filing said.

Harding, who received $150,000 in disaster assistance, in February 2021 admitted to federal investigators that he lied on the application. The former state representative — who drew a national spotlight last year for sponsoring a controversial measure that prohibited instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades — paid the federal Small Business Administration about $149,000 in restitution in 2021, according to Tuesday’s court filing.

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor is slated to hold a sentencing hearing for Harding in Gainesville on July 25.

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