Monday, January 30, 2023

Florida lawmaker resigns amid accusations he fraudulently obtained coronavirus-related mortgage

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State Rep. Joe Harding resigned his Home seat Thursday after being charged with fraudulently acquiring coronavirus-related enterprise loans.

Harding, R-Ocala, submitted his resignation a day after the U.S. Legal professional’s Workplace for the Northern District of Florida introduced a grand-jury indictment on prices of wire fraud, cash laundering, and making false statements.

In a ready assertion Thursday, Harding mentioned he couldn’t touch upon the main points of the case.

“There shall be a time once I can inform my story intimately, and I’ll,” he mentioned within the assertion. “For now, let me reassure my constituents and the taxpayers that I repaid each penny of the mortgage I obtained, and I’ve achieved my finest to cooperate totally with all authorities.”

Harding, 35, was first elected to the Home in 2020 and ran unopposed this 12 months in Marion County’s Home District 24. After the indictment was introduced Wednesday, Home Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, eliminated Harding from committee assignments.

Renner issued a short assertion Thursday that alluded to a particular legislative session beginning Monday.

“After additional session with Consultant Harding, I perceive and respect his choice to submit his resignation. Any questions on his case ought to be directed to his authorized counsel,” Renner mentioned. “The Florida Home stays centered on subsequent week’s all-important particular session on property insurance coverage, hurricane restoration, and toll reduction.”

The 12-page indictment mentioned Harding “made false and fraudulent representations” in purposes to the Small Enterprise Administration’s Financial Damage Catastrophe Mortgage program. The allegations contain actions between December 2020 and March 2021.

Harding made an preliminary court docket look Wednesday and was launched on a $10,000 bond, court docket data present. A trial is scheduled for Jan. 11 in Gainesville.

The indictment mentioned Harding “obtained and tried to acquire” greater than $150,000 from the SBA by means of a scheme that concerned making false representations in mortgage paperwork beneath the names of dormant companies,


Harding is alleged to have misrepresented the variety of staff and gross revenues for 2 companies, The Vak Shak Inc. and Harding Farms LLC. Harding additionally “falsely represented that these enterprise entities had been lively companies throughout 2019 and 2020 when in actual fact they weren’t,” the indictment mentioned.

Additionally, across the similar time he submitted the mortgage purposes, Harding is accused of making financial institution accounts for the companies and subsequently directing the SBA to deposit cash into the accounts.

Harding was indicted on two counts every of wire fraud, cash laundering, and making false statements. Wire fraud carries a most penalty of 20 years in jail; cash laundering carries a most penalty of 10 years, and making false statements carries a most penalty of 5 years.

The indictment drew heavy media consideration, as Harding was the sponsor of a controversial training invoice throughout the 2022 legislative session that, partially, prohibits classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender id in early grades. Gov. Ron DeSantis in March signed the invoice, which critics derided because the “don’t say homosexual” invoice.

Harding, who listed a $456,564 internet price on the finish of 2021 in a financial-disclosure type filed with the state, referred to the controversy in regards to the invoice in his resignation letter. He and different supporters gave the invoice the title, “Parental Rights in Schooling.”

“Through the 2022 legislative cycle, once I was beneath unbelievable warmth relating to my protection of Florida’s mother and father and households, many had been pissed off that I didn’t reply to each critic within the media. I didn’t reply to each critic as a result of the critics weren’t my constituents,” Harding wrote. “Florida’s households had been, and on this occasion, they nonetheless are.”

Harding additionally wrote that he’s stepping right down to keep away from “distractions” that might take away from his legislative duties.

“Once I determined to run in 2019 for the Florida Home, I did so for 2 easy causes: I like folks, and I like Florida. At the moment, I’m resigning from my place for a similar two causes: I like folks, and I like Florida. I consider in Floridians and wish what’s finest for them, and I consider their leaders needn’t be encumbered by distractions which might be mine alone,” the resignation letter mentioned.

Republicans got here out of the Nov. 8 elections with an 85-35 majority within the Home. Harding’s seat will have to be stuffed in a particular election.

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