Former Florida state Rep. Joseph Harding (R) was sentenced to four months in prison Friday for his involvement in a COVID-19 relief fraud scheme.
Harding, 36, of Williston, Fla., was sentenced to four months in federal prison for wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements in connection to pandemic-relief fraud, the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida said in a statement.
Harding’s scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA) included making false claims to obtain pandemic-related loans which garnered him $150,000 in funds and more than $30,000 in other fraudulent monetary transitions, according to court documents. He used the names of dormant businesses to apply for the loans, documents revealed.
“The theft of any amount of taxpayer funds is inexcusable,” U.S. Attorney Jason Coody said in the statement. “However, the defendant’s deceptive acts of diverting emergency financial assistance from small businesses during the pandemic is simply beyond the pale.”
According to one of the special agents on the case, Harding was responsible for “swindling money” from the relief funds dedicated to small businesses, including his former constituents.
“Mr. Harding egregiously betrayed the public trust by stealing from COVID relief funds meant to help the very people who elected him,” said Brian Payne, special agent in charge at the IRS Criminal Investigation unit, in the statement. “Green and public service should never meet, but when they do, we stand ready to ensure bad actors are held responsible for their actions.”
Coody said he hopes Harding’s sentencing will serve as a “significant deterrent” to others who would “selfishly steal from their fellow citizens to unlawfully enrich themselves.”
Based on the combination of maximum sentences on the charges, Harding could have faced up to 35 years in prison.
Once Harding serves his four-month sentence, he will have two years of supervised release, the statement said.
Harding’s prosecution was part of a larger investigation by the Department of Justice that found criminal activities tied to more than $8 billion in federal COVID-19 aid.
The DOJ has investigated and charged hundreds of individuals for fraud schemes including cases involving the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, unemployment insurance and COVID-19 health care fraud enforcement.