Former state rep pleads guilty to COVID relief fraud


Former State Rep. Joseph Harding of Williston pled guilty on Tuesday to wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements in connection with COVID relief fraud.

According to a Tuesday press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, Harding, 35, was charged with devising, “a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA) and obtained coronavirus-related small business loans by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, and while executing such scheme, caused wire communications to be transmitted in interstate commerce,” the release stated.

Harding, a Republican state representative for House District 24 which covers most of Marion County, resigned from his seat in early December just after he was re-elected to the position.

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Joseph Harding
Joseph Harding

Harding submitted false and fraudulent applications for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) for one of his dormant business entities, which he obtained $150,000 in COVID relief funds which he wasn’t entitled to, according to the release. He then conducted three transactions of more than $10,000 in a transfer to his joint bank account, in transferring funds into a third-party entity business bank account and by making a payment to his credit card.

Judge Allen Winsor will sentence Harding at 11 a.m. on July 25 at the U.S. Courthouse in Gainesville. Harding could receive maximum sentences of up to 20 years for wire fraud, 10 years for money laundering and five years for making false statements.

A special election will be held in May to replace Harding in Florida’s House District 24.

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