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The Florida lawmaker who sponsored the state’s controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill resigned, just two days after he was indicted for on fraud charges for allegedly acquiring tens of thousands in Covid-relief funds for inactive small businesses. 

Rep. Joe Harding issued a resignation letter on Thursday in which he said he was stepping down because ‘I love people, and I love Florida.’

Just yesterday, the Justice Department unsealed Harding’s indictment, which charged him with six counts for allegedly obtaining $150,000 in relief loans for a vacuum sealer company and a working farm, both of which had been dormant for years.

Harding plead not guilty to the charges, and insisted he paid back all the money he borrowed. He doubled down on that stance in his resignation letter, saying ‘I repaid every penny of the loan I obtained.’

He declined to comment further on the case in his resignation letter, citing the ongoing case.

Harding joined the Florida house as a representative for Marion County in 2020. Since then, he has become best known as the house sponsor for the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which barred discussions about gender or sexual identity in Florida classrooms up to the third grade.

His resignation was effective immediately, and his trial is set to start January 11, according to Politico. 

Rep. Joe Harding was indicted on six counts for allegedly obtaining $150,000 in relief loans for a vacuum sealer company and a working farm, both of which had been dormant for years

Rep. Joe Harding was indicted on six counts for allegedly obtaining $150,000 in relief loans for a vacuum sealer company and a working farm, both of which had been dormant for years

The indictment alleged that between December 2020 and March 2021 Harding applied for funds through the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan and used the names of the two companies on his applications.

It also alleged he falsified bank statements and other supporting documents in his applications. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

‘Today, I am resigning from my position for the same two reasons: I love people, and I love Florida,’ Harding said said in his letter. 

‘I believe in Floridians and want what is best for them, and I believe their leaders need not be encumbered by distractions that are mine alone.’

Though Harding declined to elaborate on the case in his resignation letter, he said ‘there will be a time when I can tell my story in detail, and I will.’

He also said he had done his ‘best’ to cooperate with authorities, and that further details about the case would be communicated through his attorney.  

One of the companies Harding included on his Covid-relief loan was the vacuum sealer company, The Vak Shack

One of the companies Harding included on his Covid-relief loan was the vacuum sealer company, The Vak Shack

Harding Farms LLC., a 46-acre horse and cattle farm which Harding applied for Covid-relief funds with

Harding Farms LLC., a 46-acre horse and cattle farm which Harding applied for Covid-relief funds with 

Harding put down company names The Vak Shack, and Harding Farms LLC. on his loan applications, according to the indictment.

The Vak Shack’s website shows a picture of Harding and his family laughing together, and explains that the family has been in the food industry equipment business for over 50 years. Harding Farms LLC. is a 46-acre horse and cattle farm, according to Politico.

However, records showed that the companies were both inactive in Florida between May 2017 and when Harding applied for the loans in  December 2020.

The indictment said Harding opened new bank accounts for each company, and filed paperwork through the Florida Department of State to make the businesses appear operational. 

In his applications, Harding said The Vak Shack had four employees and turned $420,784 in profit in the 12 months before January 31, 2020. He claimed Harding Farms had two employees, and $392,000 in profit.

Harding said he plead not guilty in a Wednesday statement.

‘I want the public and my constituents to know that I fully repaid the loan and cooperated with investigators as requested,’ he said.

Harding plead not guilty to the charges, and said he repaid all the loan funds. He faces up to 35 years in prison

Harding plead not guilty to the charges, and said he repaid all the loan funds. He faces up to 35 years in prison

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner (above) pulled Harding from his committee assignments - including one on the Judiciary Committee - shortly after the indictment.

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner (above) pulled Harding from his committee assignments – including one on the Judiciary Committee – shortly after the indictment.

Harding had a hearing grand jury hearing on Tuesday where he was officially indicted. He was released on bond.

He joined the Florida house as a representative for Marion County in 2020. Since then, he has become best known as the house sponsor for the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which barred discussions about gender or sexual identity in Florida classrooms up to the third grade.

 Florida House Speaker Paul Renner pulled Harding from his committee assignments – including one on the Judiciary Committee – shortly after the indictment.

‘After consultation with Representative Harding regarding his indictment, I am temporarily removing him from his committee assignments to allow him time to focus on this matter,’ said Renner. ‘In America, we adhere to the rule of law, and as such, Representative Harding is presumed innocent and will have the opportunity to plead his case before a court.’ 

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Daily Mail

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