Rep. Joe Harding is resigning his House District 24 seat following an indictment Wednesday alleging wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements.
His resignation is effective immediately.
“To my many colleagues that have reached out to me, including many I have deep policy disagreements with, thank you. It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve alongside you for the past two years,” Harding wrote in an extended statement announcing his decision.
Harding wrote that he cannot comment on the details of his case.
“There will be a time when I can tell my story in detail, and I will,” he wrote. “For now, let me reassure my constituents and the taxpayers that I repaid every penny of the loan I obtained, and I have done my best to cooperate fully with all authorities.”
He closed his statement with a bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11-12.
The indictment alleges that between Dec. 1, 2020 and March 1, 2021, Harding committed two acts of wire fraud through a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA) and by obtaining COVID-19-related small business loans through false and fraudulent pretenses.
It alleges Harding made fraudulent applications for Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans, including by utilizing the names of dormant businesses. It also alleges Harding obtained fraudulently created bank statements for one of the dormant businesses, used as supporting documentation for one of the loan applications.
Combined, the charges accuse Harding of obtaining or attempting to obtain “more than $150,000 in funds from the SBA to which he was not entitled.”
A trial for Harding is set for Jan. 11, 2023 at 8:30 a.m. at the U.S. Courthouse in Gainesville. United States District Judge Allen Winsor will preside.
If convicted, Harding faces up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud, up to 10 years for money laundering and up to 5 years for making false statements.
After the indictment was announced, House Speaker Paul Renner removed Harding from all committee assignments, but declined to comment further on the allegations.
After Harding’s resignation, Renner said he ‘understood and respected’ his decision while sounding as if the Chamber was ready to move forward.
“The Florida House remains focused on next week’s all-important special session on property insurance, hurricane recovery, and toll relief,” said Renner.
The indictment comes after a joint investigation from the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of Inspector General and the SBA Office of Inspector General.
Assistant United States Attorneys David Byron and Justin Keen are prosecuting the case.
Harding was first elected to the House in 2020 and subsequently re-elected this year, representing a portion of Marion County.
The Republican lawmaker is best known for sponsoring House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education legislation which critics have labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The Republican-led Legislature passed the bill this year and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it. It took effect July 1.
Harding’s indictment follows a September guilty plea from his brother-in-law, Patrick Walsh. As reported by Fresh Take Florida, Walsh pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering charges connected to his receipt of nearly $8 million in disaster relief loans.
Walsh, an international blimp magnate, had used the money on a series of land buys, including the purchase of a private island in the Gulf of Mexico near Yankeetown. He is scheduled to be sentenced at the end of January.
With Harding now out of office, a Special Election will be held to fill the House District 24 seat. Gov. Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Cord Byrd will set the dates for the special primary and election.