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Friday, January 27, 2023

State Representative for Ocala, Marion County accused of stealing $150,000 in COVID-19 funds

The Florida state representative from Ocala and Marion County who introduced the controversial Parental Rights and Education bill has been indicted by a federal grand jury on allegations of wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements.

The indictment, which was announced today by Jason R. Coody (United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida), alleges that between December 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021, Republican state representative Joseph Harding, 35, committed two acts of wire fraud by participating in a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA).

State Rep. from Ocala Marion County indicted by federal grand jury
Florida state representative Joseph Harding was indicted by a federal grand jury on December 7

In addition, the indictment alleges that Harding obtained coronavirus-related small business loans through materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, and for the purpose of executing this scheme, he is accused of causing wire communications to be transmitted in interstate commerce.

The indictment further alleges that Harding made false and fraudulent SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) applications, listed the names of dormant business entities on documents submitted to the SBA, and obtained fraudulently created bank statements for one of the dormant business entities that was used as supporting documentation for one of the fraudulent EIDL loan applications.

According to the indictment, Harding is alleged to have fraudulently obtained and attempted to obtain more than $150,000 in funds from the SBA. He is also being charged with two counts of engaging in monetary transactions with funds derived from unlawful activity related to his transfer of the fraudulently obtained EIDL proceeds into two bank accounts, and two counts of making false statements to the SBA.

A trial for Harding has been scheduled at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, January 11, 2023, at the United States Courthouse in Gainesville.

If convicted, Harding could face the following maximum prison terms for each charge:

  • Wire fraud – 20 years.
  • Money Laundering – 10 years.
  • Making False Statements – 5 years.

An indictment is an allegation by a grand jury that a defendant has committed a violation of federal criminal law and is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.