After pleading guilty in a COVID fraud case, a Florida GOP senator who crafted the “Don’t Say Gay” bill could serve up to 35 years in prison.


After pleading guilty to federal felony fraud charges in a scheme to obtain $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funds on Tuesday afternoon, Joe Harding, the now-former Florida Republican lawmaker who created the extreme “Don’t Say Gay” bill, could serve up to 35 years in prison, according to Florida Politics publisher Peter Scorsch.

Construction project manager Harding, 35, founded his own lawn care business. Once Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis endorsed and signed into law his anti-LGBTQ legislation, technically known as the Parental Rights in Education Act, he immediately rose to the status of a right-wing idol.

In his scheme to collect $150,000 in COVID funds, Harding was accused on six counts of wire fraud, money laundering, and making false claims, according to a federal indictment from December.


Next day, he announced his resignation from the legislature. He first entered a not guilty plea.

The executive director of Equality Florida, Nadine Smith, commented on social media when Harding was accused and resigned, saying: “So much harm to students, parents, and instructors because of his raw political ambitions. He spread lie after untruth that defamed entire communities and encouraged violent intolerance. Although he will have his day in court, his legacy is already abhorrent.

Florida Politics stated in December that Harding’s indictment came after his brother-in-law Patrick Walsh’s guilty plea in September. Walsh admitted guilt to wire fraud and money laundering charges related to his acquisition of roughly $8 million in disaster relief loans, according to Fresh Take Florida.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Harding, who is unrepentant about the harm many believe he has caused to children and the LGBTQ community, said: “During the previous legislative session, I felt the support of millions of Americans as I fought for our shared issues and for parental rights. I’ll never forget the help I got from all throughout this wonderful nation.