A prominent Florida state representative who authored the controversial Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, was indicted by a grand jury on fraud-related charges, mostly relating to the fraudulent use of COVID-19 relief funds.
State Rep. Joseph Harding (R), 35, is accused of six different charges in total, including wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida. The maximum punishment for each sentence is 20 years in prison for wire fraud, 10 years for money laundering, and five years for making false statements. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and is set to go to trial on Jan. 11.
“By this conduct, the indictment alleges that Harding fraudulently obtained and attempted to obtain more than $150,000 in funds from the SBA to which he was not entitled,” a press release from the U.S. attorney’s office states.
“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,” it continues.
Harding’s education bill, derided by left-wing critics as the Don’t Say Gay bill, banned the discussion of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” It was signed into law in July.