The Florida state representative who sponsored opponents of the legislation dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill resigned on Thursday, a day after he was accused of fraudulently obtaining tens of thousands of dollars in a Federal Covid Relief Program.
State Representative Joseph Harding, a Republican, said his resignation would be “effective immediately.” He was charged with a host of charges including wire fraud, money laundering, misrepresentation and other crimes.
The six-count indictment alleges Harding, 35, applied for more than $150,000 in Covid relief loans and received around $45,000 in January and February 2021, for a pair of businesses which had remained inactive in the months preceding the filing of the applications.
In a resignation letter addressed to Florida House Speaker Paul Renner and posted on Harding’s campaign Facebook page, he said his legal woes, which include a trial in the case that was slated to begin in January, necessitated full His attention.
“It has been a great honor to serve the people of this state and especially the people of Levy and Marion counties,” Harding said. “However, due to legal issues that require my full attention, I believe it is now time to allow someone else to serve my district.”
Renner said in a statement, “I understand and respect his decision to tender his resignation. Any questions regarding his case should be directed to his legal counsel.”
The indictment alleges that in applications to the Small Business Administration in 2020, Harding claimed that Vak Shack Inc. and Harding Farms had half a dozen employees and gross revenues from the previous year totaling more of $800,000. State records showed that the entities were inactive and had no employees.
Harding pleaded not guilty in court on Wednesday.
In a statement posted on Facebook on Thursday, Harding said he had repaid “every penny” of the loan.
“There will be a time when I can tell my story in detail, and I will,” Harding said in a statement, adding that he had “done my best to cooperate fully with all authorities.”
He did not immediately respond Thursday evening to seek further comment.
Harding, whose district includes Ocala, was first elected in 2020.
He sponsored a bill this year banning “classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity” in elementary schools across the state. The bill, which has been criticized as an attack on Florida’s LGBTQ community, was signed into law in March by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.
Tim Stellah contributed.