Republican Former Florida Lawmaker Sent to Prison for Covid-19 aid Fraud – A former Florida state legislator, who played a key role in passing the controversial “don’t say gay” law, has been convicted and sentenced to four months in federal prison for fraudulently obtaining government aid meant for small businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic. The maximum sentence he could have received was 20 years.
The Department of Justice announced that after serving his prison term, Harding will undergo two years of supervised release. In March, Harding pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including wire fraud, for unlawfully obtaining $150,000 in Covid-19 relief funds intended for small businesses. Patrick Walsh, who is Harding’s brother-in-law, has been sentenced to over five years in prison for a separate scheme aimed at acquiring small business funds during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Department of Justice.
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Walsh illicitly obtained nearly $5 million in pandemic-related assistance. Federal prosecutors accused Harding of supplying false information in his quest to secure Covid-19 small business relief funds. In 2020, he applied for loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA) for a company called Vak Shack Inc, despite Vak Shack not being operational in 2019 or 2020, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
Harding also made an unsuccessful attempt to fraudulently secure a loan for another business. Harding was initially elected to Florida’s House of Representatives in 2020 and secured a second term in 2022, but he was indicted in December 2022, shortly after starting his second term, and subsequently resigned from office. He gained national attention for sponsoring Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill, legislation criticized by LGBTQ+ advocates as discriminatory and harmful.
The notorious law initially prohibited the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity to students from kindergarten through third grade. Subsequently, the ban was extended to encompass all grade levels following approval by the Florida board of education in April. Last March, Georgia lawmakers made an attempt to pass a similar bill that would forbid the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in private schools.
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This legislation is just one of many enacted in the past year targeting LGBTQ+ rights in Florida. In May, Governor Ron DeSantis also signed a law prohibiting gender-affirming care for individuals under the age of 18. This law, which also imposes restrictions on treatments for gender dysphoria in adults, has already been the subject of legal challenges.