A former Florida lawmaker pleaded guilty Tuesday to wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements in connection with Covid-19 relief fraud, according to a news release from the Department of Justice.
Former Republican state Rep. Joseph Harding acquired more than $150,000 in Small Business Administration loans by lying on loan applications, the department said.
Harding is scheduled to be sentenced on July 25, the release said.
A wire fraud conviction carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, while money laundering and making false statements carry a maximum of 10 and five years, respectively.
Peg O’Connor, an attorney for Harding, said in a statement that her client “made the best decision available to him under the circumstances to protect his family and his future.”
She added that she looks forward to providing a “fuller picture” and “insight into who Mr. Harding is as a person” at sentencing.
Prosecutors previously said Harding listed dormant business entities on his applications, fabricated the numbers of people he employed and submitted fake bank statements.
Harding was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2020 and announced his resignation after he was charged in December.
In a statement to The New York Times last year, he said he had pleaded not guilty during an initial court appearance. “I want the public and my constituents to know that I fully repaid the loan and cooperated with investigators as requested,” Harding told the newspaper at the time.
The Florida Republican 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 in March 2022, set off a national firestorm and drew immediate pushback from LGBTQ advocates.
Investigators have said that billions of dollars of Covid-19 relief funds have been obtained using fabricated, stolen or fake information. The Justice Department’s Covid-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force has brought several high-profile fraud cases across the country.
CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz and Jack Forrest contributed to this report