GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA – Joseph Harding, 36, of Williston, Florida, was sentenced to 4 months in federal prison for wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements in connection with COVID-19 relief fraud. The sentence was announced by Jason R. Coody, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.
“The theft of any amount of taxpayer funds is inexcusable,” said U.S. Attorney Coody. “However, the defendant’s deceptive acts of diverting emergency financial assistance from small businesses during the pandemic is simply beyond the pale. Today’s sentence both punishes the defendant’s criminal conduct and should serve as a significant deterrent to others who would selfishly steal from their fellow citizens to unlawfully enrich themselves. With our law enforcement partners, we remain committed to investigating and prosecuting those who engage in acts of COVID-19 related fraud.”
Court documents reflect Harding participated in a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA) and obtained a coronavirus-related small business loan by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, and while executing such scheme, caused wire communications to be transmitted in interstate commerce. Harding also made a false and fraudulent SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) application, in the name of one of his dormant business entities, that he submitted to the SBA. By this conduct, Harding fraudulently obtained $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funds from the SBA to which he was not entitled. After obtaining the EIDL proceeds, Harding conducted three monetary transactions each involving more than $10,000 in fraudulently obtained funds: a transfer to his joint bank account, a payment to his credit card, and a transfer into a bank account of a third-party business entity.
"Mr. Harding egregiously betrayed the public trust by stealing from COVID relief funds meant to help the very people who elected him.,” said Special Agent in Charge Brian J. Payne, IRS Criminal Investigation, Tampa Field Office. “Greed and public service should never meet, but when they do, we stand ready to ensure bad actors are held responsible for their actions.”
“Today, Mr. Harding was held accountable for swindling money out of COVID-19 relief programs created to help small businesses, including Mr. Harding’s own constituents, recover from the economic hardships of the pandemic,” said Special Agent in Charge Kyle A. Myles of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General (FDIC OIG). “The FDIC OIG will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring to justice anyone who steals from such programs and threatens to undermine the integrity of our Nation’s financial institutions.”
Harding’s imprisonment will be followed by two years of supervised release.
“SBA OIG will follow the evidence to root out fraud in SBA’s pandemic response programs and bring wrongdoers to justice,” said SBA OIG’s Eastern Region Special Agent-in-Charge Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite. “This sentence demonstrates there is significant consequence for fraudulently accessing SBA programs to steal from taxpayers. I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s office and our law enforcement partners for their support and dedication to pursuing justice in this case.”
“Mr. Harding abused a program that was designed to ease the suffering of the constituents who elected him to serve in their best interests,” says Sherri E. Onks, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division. “Instead of using thousands of dollars in federal funds to help keep struggling businesses afloat and honest workers employed, he selfishly diverted it for his own personal gain. The FBI will hold accountable anyone who takes advantage of those in need, and we remain committed to working with our partners to ensure fraudsters are brought to justice.”
The conviction jointly conducted by the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Office of Inspector General, the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Justin M. Keen and David P. Byron.
The PPP, administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”), was designed to provide low-interest, forgivable loans to applicants to help fund certain permissible expenses for qualifying businesses amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which included payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities. The EIDL program, also administered by the SBA, was designed to provide low-interest loans to small businesses in regions affected by declared disasters. The CARES Act authorized the SBA to provide EIDLs, up to $2 million, to eligible small businesses experiencing substantial financial disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This case was prosecuted as part the Department of Justice’s prosecution of fraud schemes that exploit the CARES Act relief programs. The CARES Act is a federal law enacted in March 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the two programs that were developed through CARES Act is the PPP. It provides funding to businesses through PPP loans for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. PPP allows the interest and principal on loans to be forgiven if the business spends proceeds on certain expense items within a designated time and uses a certain percentage of the loan on payroll expenses. The Department of Justice remains vigilant in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting wrongdoing related to the crisis.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida is one of 94 offices that serve as the nation’s principal litigators under the direction of the Attorney General. To access public court documents online, please visit the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida website. For more information about the United States Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Florida, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao/fln/index.html.
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