Ex-Florida lawmaker Joe Harding takes plea deal in COVID business loan fraud case

Harding was indicted by a federal grand jury in December

ORLANDO, Fla. – Joseph Harding, the former Florida representative who resigned in December after he was indicted on federal fraud charges, has taken a plea deal from the U.S. Justice Department.

On Tuesday, Harding, who represented part of Marion County in the Florida House of Representatives, entered guilty pleas to one count of wire fraud, one count of money laundering and one count of making false statements. The rest of the counts against him will be dropped.

Harding was indicted by a federal grand jury in December for using two inactive companies to apply for COVID-19 relief loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, getting some $150,000.

At the time, Harding entered a plea of not guilty and said in an email that he repaid the government for the loan money he had gotten, which is reflected in the plea agreement.

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Harding faces a maximum term of 20 years in federal prison for the wire fraud charge alone. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for money laundering and a maximum of five years in prison for false statements.

It will be up to a federal judge, however, to decide what sentence Harding will get. Sentencing is set for July 25 at 11 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Gainesville.

Harding had just started his second term in the Florida House of Representatives when he was indicted. He’s best known for sponsoring the Parental Rights in Education law, known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

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About the Authors:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.