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Friday, January 27, 2023

Ocala Rep. Harding resigns amidst fraud, laundering charges; says he ‘repaid every penny’ of COVID-19 loan

State Rep. Joseph Harding resigned from his seat in the Florida House of Representatives on Thursday, a day after he was indicted by a federal grand jury on allegations of wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements.

State Rep. from Ocala Marion County indicted by federal grand jury
Former state representative Joseph Harding, 35, announced his resignation on Thursday

Harding, who is known for introducing the controversial Parental Rights and Education bill, announced his resignation in a letter that was posted on his Facebook page on Thursday.

“It has been a great honor to serve the people of this state and more specifically the people of Levy and Marion Counties,” stated Harding. “However, due to legal issues that require my complete focus, it is my opinion that now is the time to allow someone else to serve my district.”

The federal indictment alleges that Harding committed two acts of wire fraud by participating in a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA). According to the indictment, 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.

In the social media post announcing his resignation, Harding stated, “Regarding the current legal matter, I cannot comment on the details of my case. There will be a time when I can tell my story in detail, and I will.”

“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,” added Harding.

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.