Florida state representative Joe Harding, the Republican lawmaker who sponsored the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, resigned after he was indicted by a federal grand jury for COVID-19 business relief fraud and money laundering.
The indictment, which was unsealed on 7 December, states that between 1 December 2020 and 1 March 2021, Harding obtained $150,000 (£122,500) in small business loans related to the COVID-19 pandemic by using the names of two dormant companies.
One of these was The Vak Shack, which his website says sells discount vacuum cleaner bags, while the other, Harding Farms, is said to be a 46-acre horse and cattle facility.
Both companies were not active in Florida from May 2017 to December 2020.
It is also believed that he used false bank statements as supporting documentation on applications for these under the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan.
One day after the indictment was unsealed, Harding resigned from his position in the Florida House of Representatives.
“Today, I am resigning from my position for the same two reasons: I love people, and I love Florida,” he said in a statement, according to Politico. “I believe in Floridians and want what is best for them, and I believe their leaders need not be encumbered by distractions that are mine alone.”
The former lawmaker’s resignation is effective immediately.
He had previously denied the allegations in a statement: “Today, I pleaded not guilty to federal charges that state I improperly obtained and used an EIDL loan issued by the Small Business Administration.
“I want the public and my constituents to know that I fully repaid the loan and cooperated with investigators as requested.
“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.”
The legislator authored the Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as ‘Don’t Say Gay’, which prohibits educators in Florida from talking about issues relating to sexuality and gender identity from kindergarten to third grade.
The bill was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis in March, despite widespread uproar from the LGBTQ+ community and activists.
If convicted, Harding could spend up to 20 years in federal prison for wire fraud, as well as 10 for money laundering and five for making false statements.