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Former Rep. Harding pleads guilty to federal charges

Gainesville WCJB-TV logo Gainesville WCJB-TV 3/21/2023 Ryan Turbeville

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - A former North Central Florida state representative is pleading guilty after being indicted by the Department of Justice for fraudulently taking COVID relief money.

At the U.S. Courthouse in Gainesville on Tuesday, former Rep. Joe Harding of Marion County changed his plea from not guilty to guilty on three of the six counts against him. Department of Justice officials say he fraudulently obtained more than $150,000 in coronavirus-related business loans.

He pleaded guilty to the counts of money laundering, wire fraud, and lying to a government official. The maximum sentence for all three charges combined is 35 years.

Harding appeared in person at the courthouse and was visibly nervous while speaking with the judge. A sentencing hearing will be held on July 25 at 11 a.m.

Harding resigned from his position representing state House District 24 in Marion County on Dec. 8, 2022.

On March 7, the Republican primary was held for the seat Harding vacated. Ryan Chamberlin won the primary with 36 percent of the vote. He will run against a write-in candidate for the general election.

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