Hearing in case of ex-Florida lawmaker accused of COVID loan fraud to discuss plea change

Joseph Harding was indicted and resigned from the Florida House in December

FL Rep. Joseph Harding, R-Williston. (Florida House of Representatives)

OCALA, Fla. – A change of plea hearing has been set for next week in the case of Joseph Harding, a former Florida representative who faces charges related to COVID-19 loan fraud.

The hearing is set for Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the federal court in Gainesville. No other information was provided in federal court documents.

Harding was indicted by a federal grand jury in December of wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements to obtain small business loans related to COVID-19 funds.

Federal prosecutors say Harding created bank accounts for dormant business entities and used them to try to get more than $150,000 in COVID loans from the Small Business Administration.

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Harding is a Republican from Williston who represented District 24 in the Florida House of Representatives. That district included Ocala. He is best known for sponsoring the Parental Rights in Education law, known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Harding has pleaded not guilty to the charges, but he also resigned from his position in the Florida House in December.

A general election to replace Harding is set for May 16. Ryan Chamberlin, the founder of a conservative social media and news site, faces write-in candidate Robert Fox, a bail bondsman and private investigator.

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Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.