Federal prosecutors announced charges Wednesday against Florida state Rep. Joe Harding, accusing him of bilking a pandemic assistance program to get loans for businesses that had gone defunct years earlier.
Mr. Harding, a Republican, is best known as the author of Florida’s parental rights legislation, better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
A grand jury indicted Mr. Harding on counts of wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements.
Mr. Harding pleaded not guilty to the six charges against him and was released on bond.
The Washington Times has reached out to his state assembly office and to his lawyer for comment.
Prosecutors say he applied for $150,000 in pandemic loans from the Small Business Administration.
Mr. Harding claimed that one of the businesses, the Vak Shack Inc., had gross revenue of more than $420,000 and employed four people in the year before the pandemic. He claimed the other business, Harding Farms LLC, had $392,000 in revenue.
In fact, prosecutors charged, both businesses had been dormant since 2017.
Mr. Harding’s law governing schools’ treatment of gender identity became a national sensation earlier this year.
The law prohibits schools from teaching about sexual orientation or sexual identity in kindergarten through third grade, or in any other grade “in a manner not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate in accordance with state standards.”
He told Florida media he had become concerned with what appeared to be schools’ intense focus on the issue — and particularly on urging students to see their identity as separate from their sex at birth.