'Don't Say Gay' Florida lawmaker Rep. Joe Harding indicted on fraud charges

Lawmaker accused of illegally obtaining or trying to obtain more than $150,000 in pandemic aid loans
Florida state Rep. Joe Harding listens during a Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee hearing in a legislative session on Jan. 13, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. Harding has been indicted for defrauding a loan program offered by the federal government to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.
Posted at 7:34 PM, Dec 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-07 19:36:01-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida lawmaker who sponsored the controversial law critics call "Don't Say Gay" has been indicted on charges of defrauding a federal coronavirus loan program for small businesses, officials said Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors said Rep. Joe Harding, 35, illegally obtained or tried to obtain more than $150,000 from the Small Business Administration in pandemic aid loans. He is being charged with two counts of wire fraud, two counts of money laundering and two counts of making false statements.

Harding, a Republican, became nationally known this year over his sponsorship of a law that forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as well as material that is not deemed age-appropriate.

Harding did not immediately return an emailed request for comment. A voicemail left at his office was not immediately returned.

However, Harding posted on Facebook that he pleaded not guilty to the charges.

"I want the public and my constituents to know that I fully repaid the loan and cooperated with investigators as requested," Harding said in the post.

It is unclear if he has hired a lawyer.

The Republican speaker of the Florida House of Representatives has temporarily removed Harding from his committee assignments in the Legislature.

A trial is scheduled for Jan. 11.