A former Florida GOP lawmaker is heading to prison after he was found guilty of fraud.
Former Florida state Rep. Joe Harding (R) shot to prominence after sponsoring the state’s parental rights bill dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Harding was sentenced to four months in prison after prosecutors accused him of betraying public trust by fraudulently obtaining COVID relief funds in the form of a business loan.
Former Florida state rep who sponsored 'Don't Say Gay' bill breaks silence after prison sentence: 'Dark days' https://t.co/Zxr2kZtfRm
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Harding, who stepped down as state legislator last December, spoke to Fox News in his first interview since his sentencing. The former Florida lawmaker said he takes full responsibility for his role in the scheme, but added that the media misrepresented the facts of the case.
“It’s been pretty brutal to watch,” Harding said. “Something that I’ve done from the beginning is take responsibility. I’ve tried to do that even with all of the political arrows and pretty brutal coverage that I have had on this. At the end of the day, I blame myself for the mistakes I made that just put me in a position to be criticized.”
— Gitty_Gazette (@GazetteGit6432) December 18, 2023
The former state legislature revealed that he was misled into partaking in the scheme by his brother-in-law, whose fraud totaled $8 million.
“I was not aware what he was doing, but I listened. I listened to him and, you know, allowed myself to get influenced and really, in many ways, get conned and manipulated by him,” Harding said. “That would be the right way to put it, and he actually applied for the loans with my permission to apply for a loan. But he knew how to do the work, knew how to manipulate it.
Harding’s brother-in-law, Patrick Parker Walsh, approached him in 2020 and misled him into getting involved in a scheme in which false information was used to get a pandemic relief loan. Harding maintains that he did not benefit financially from the $150,000 loan and that it was fully paid back two years before his prosecution.
“Unfortunately, you know, I allowed him, but he walked me into this issue. And I think that’s probably the hardest thing, you know, through this process, is that you don’t shed blame, I’m not shedding blame, but I think the judge said it pretty clearly in the sentencing hearing that, you know, he doesn’t believe that I’d be in this position if it wasn’t for my brother-in-law.”
Harding is set to report to prison early next year to begin his jail term. The former state legislator said he would use this dark experience to build his resilience.
“I will take the experience that I went through and some really, really, really dark days that I went through, and I will use that to not just make myself more resilient but to use my uniquely having to go through this to be able to … hopefully help others through similar circumstances … of their own fault or not.”