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Investigative Press Release
Issuing Office: Ocala FL
Category: Financial Fraud

Lake County Woman Arrested For COVID-19 Fraud

Ocala, Florida – United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg announces the arrest of Nicole Harding (38, Clermont) on an indictment charging her with one count of wire fraud. If convicted, Harding faces up to 20 years in federal prison. 

According to court records, between March 28 and April 14, 2021, Harding devised a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration by submitting a false Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan application. PPP loans were one of the sources of economic relief provided for by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Harding, however, provided false representations in her PPP application to secure the loan. The loan proceeds ($19,965) were later electronically transferred into her bank account.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

In May 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The task force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts.  

This case was investigated by the United States Postal Service - Office of Inspector General. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Hannah Nowalk.