Former state rep. Joe Harding (R-Ocala) at a legislative session in Tallahassee on Jan. 13, 2022. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press)

Prosecutors urge prison sentence for former Rep. Joe Harding


With a sentencing hearing scheduled Sept. 11, federal prosecutors said in a court filing Thursday that former state Rep. Joe Harding, R-Ocala, should be sent to prison for fraudulently applying for business loans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Joseph Harding is a businessman and former member of the Florida House of Representatives,” the filing said. “As he proudly served the citizens of Florida’s 22nd District, Harding took advantage of relief programs designed to help businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, bilking the federal government of $150,000.”

Harding, who resigned from the House after being indicted in December, pleaded guilty in March to charges of wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements. The charges involved Harding fraudulently applying for two pandemic-related Small Business Administration loans.

In the filing Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Keen wrote that Harding’s “intentional criminal acts while serving as an elected state representative signify a betrayal of the public’s trust” and that he should receive a prison term on the basis of “general deterrence.”

Keen, however, also wrote that a “reasonable variance” from federal sentencing guidelines is “probably appropriate,” which could lower the term of the sentence.

“Harding made poor choices when he submitted his false applications for SBA loans,” Keen wrote. “But since getting caught, Harding has done almost everything that could be expected of a person who is facing federal felony charges. He promptly confessed to law enforcement and paid restitution to the SBA, and he further assisted law enforcement with their investigations.”

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor will hold the Sept. 11 hearing in the federal courthouse in Gainesville.

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