A former Florida state lawmaker who acquired more than $150,000 in Small Business Administration loans by lying on applications was sentenced Thursday to four months in federal prison, the US Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Florida said.
Former state Rep. Joseph Harding, a Republican, pleaded guilty in March to wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements in connection with Covid-19 relief fraud. Following his prison term, he will face two years of supervised release, a court record said.
CNN affiliate WKMG reports that Harding tearfully addressed the court, saying he had “no one to blame but myself.”
“I want to express my remorse for the decisions and failures I’ve made,” he said, according to WKMG.
CNN has reached out to attorneys for Harding.
Prosecutors have said Harding listed dormant business entities on his Covid-19 relief loan applications, fabricated the numbers of people he employed and submitted fake bank statements.
Brian J. Payne, a special agent in charge at the IRS Criminal Investigation unit, said Harding “egregiously betrayed the public trust by stealing from COVID relief funds meant to help the very people who elected him.”
“Greed and public service should never meet, but when they do, we stand ready to ensure bad actors are held responsible for their actions,” Payne continued.
Harding has drawn the national spotlight before, as a sponsor of the controversial legislation that banned certain instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom that opponents dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The legislation officially named the “Parental Rights in Education” law, signed by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last year, set off a national firestorm and drew immediate pushback from LGBTQ advocates.
Harding, who resigned from the Florida House last year, is ordered to surrender by noon on January 29, 2024, his sentencing sheet says.