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Florida ‘Don’t Say Gay’ lawmaker charged with fraud

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida lawmaker who sponsored the controversial appeal by critics of the “Don’t Say Gay” law has been charged with defrauding a federal coronavirus loan program for small businesses, officials said Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors said Rep. Joe Harding, 35, illegally obtained or attempted to obtain more than $150,000 from the Small Business Administration in pandemic relief loans. He is charged with two counts of wire fraud, two counts of money laundering and two counts of misrepresentation.

Harding, a Republican, rose to national prominence this year for sponsoring legislation that bans the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as well as material that is not considered age appropriate.

Harding did not immediately return an email request for comment. A voicemail left at his office was not immediately returned. It is not known whether he has hired a lawyer.

The Republican Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives temporarily removed Harding from committee assignments in the Legislative Assembly.

A trial is scheduled for January 11.

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