Republican lawmaker behind Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law charged with fraud and money laundering

Florida Rep. Joseph Harding made his name as a conservative lawmaker by authoring and sponsoring Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law, which prohibits discussion of sexuality or gender in the state's elementary schools. Harding, prosecutors now say, is a crook: a fraudster and money launderer who stole thousands in Covid relief funds.

Joseph Harding, 35, was indicted on six counts of wire fraud, money laundering, making false statements and other crimes, the U.S. attorney's office for Northern Florida said in a release. Harding, a Republican whose district is south of Gainesville, is accused of seeking Covid-relief loans from the Small Business Administration in 2020 for two companies, Vak Shack Inc. and Harding Farms, according to the indictment. The indictment alleges that in applications to the agency, Harding said the companies had half a dozen employees and gross revenues from the previous year totaling more than $800,000.