A former confidante of Rep Matt Gaetz admitted a number of federal crimes in court files on Friday, including sex trafficking in a 17-year-old girl, and agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation.
The plea by Joel Greenberg, a former associate of Mr. Gaetz who worked as a tax collector in Seminole County, Florida, north of Orlando prior to his indictment last year, provided prosecutors with a potential key witness in deciding whether to do so should indict Mr. Gaetz, the Florida Republican who is a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Gaetz is to be investigated whether he violated sex trafficking laws by having sex with the same 17-year-old.
Mr. Greenberg did not specifically involve Mr. Gaetz in court files filed by prosecutors in the federal district court in Orlando. But Mr. Greenberg admitted that, according to the documents, he “introduced the minors to other adult men engaged in commercial sex acts” and that he was sometimes present. The others were not named.
Mr Greenberg, who has been meeting with prosecutors for at least five months, told investigators that Mr Gaetz had sex with the girl and knew she would be paid, according to one person who was briefed on the investigation.
Mr. Gaetz has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and stressed in a statement from his campaign on Friday that he was not mentioned in the new court files. “Congressman Gaetz has never had sex with minors and has never paid for sex,” the statement said.
Prosecutors revealed in the documents that they have evidence that they say confirms Mr Greenberg’s admissions – including a series of communications and transactions Mr Greenberg had with the girl and a list of dates of their sexual encounters . The inclusion of this material appeared to be an attempt to add credibility to Mr. Greenberg as a witness, as his truthfulness would likely be questioned by anyone charged on the basis of information he provides to prosecutors.
While the ongoing investigation involved Mr. Gaetz and other influential Florida Republicans, news reports portrayed them as a free-roaming group who attended parties, sometimes used the mood-altering drug ecstasy, and in some cases paid women to have sex with.
Mr Greenberg admitted in court records that he paid many other women to have sex, including the 17-year-old. In total, Mr. Greenberg spent over $ 70,000 on 150 sexual acts and paid women between $ 200 and $ 1,000 for each encounter through Venmo and intermittently the credit card for the tax collector’s office.
Mr Greenberg also admitted Friday that he stole money from local taxpayers, committed identity theft and defrauded the federal government. After learning he was being investigated, he used an American Express card for the tax collector’s office to purchase cryptocurrency and sports collectibles, such as a basketball and trading card signed by Kobe Bryant and a photo signed by Michael Jordan.
The Justice Department must now decide how to proceed with the investigation. Since Mr. Gaetz is a seated member of Congress with a national profile and is a close ally of the former president, any decision to indict him would likely go to the head of the Justice Department.
The court documents showed the division’s most complete picture yet of how Mr. Greenberg recruited the underage girl and other women.
“In particular, Greenberg has been involved in so-called ‘sugar daddy’ relationships in which he paid women to have sex but tried to disguise the payments as ‘school-related’ expenses or other living expenses,” the documents read. He also referred to them as payments for “school,” “food,” and “ice cream,” the documents say.
The documents contained an attempt by Mr. Greenberg to disrupt the investigation. Around the time he learned last summer that the authorities were investigating his ties to the girl, he reached out to her to make sure that “her stories would be consistent because he knew his commercial sexual activity with her was going to be consistent were illegal, ”wrote the prosecutor. They did not accuse him of obstruction of justice.
Mr. Greenberg, 37, faces 12 years in prison. However, if their cooperation results in the prosecution of others, the Department of Justice can apply to the judge overseeing their case to request a shorter sentence. According to court documents filed on Friday, Mr Greenberg could face perjury charges for misleading investigators into trying to persecute others.
The friendship between Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Greenberg began in Florida Republican political circles around the time Mr. Trump was elected president in 2016. Mr Trump’s candidacy attracted many inexperienced politicians who were granted access to his campaign, including Mr Gaetz and, to a lesser extent, Mr Greenberg.
Hoping to ingratiate himself with Mr. Gaetz and other well-connected Republicans in Florida, Mr. Greenberg has told others he hired women to have sex with him, Mr. Gaetz, and others through a website that connects people who go on dates in exchange for gifts, such as fine dining, travel, and allowances.
Mr Greenberg first met the 17-year-old on the website where she introduced herself to him as an adult, according to the prosecutor’s account on the court documents. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Greenberg and the girl met on his boat. The two did not have sex, but the girl received $ 400 and he paid her the same amount for a later meeting at a hotel where they had sex.
In total, they had sex for money seven times before the girl turned 18, court records said, and they did drugs multiple times.
“Greenberg often offered and tended ecstasy to minors and others, which Greenberg also took himself,” the records say. “Often times, Greenberg offered to pay the minor and others an extra amount of money to use ecstasy.”
Prosecutors also said that even though the girl told him she was over 18, Mr Greenberg had had so many interactions with her over such a long period that he should have known she was a minor.
“Greenberg agrees and acknowledges that he acted in reckless disregard for the fact that the minor was less than 18 years old when he engaged in commercial sexual acts with the minor and that Greenberg” had a reasonable opportunity to concede the minors observe “, under 18 years of age according to the documents.
Mr. Greenberg informed investigators that he and Mr. Gaetz had sex with the 17-year-old; She claimed to be over 18 years old, but Mr Greenberg told investigators that they later found out her age, according to the person who was briefed on the investigation.
Mr Greenberg was first charged in June for attempting to undermine a political rival by spreading false rumors that the rival had sex with a student. Two months later, he was charged with sex trafficking with the 17-year-old. In the months that followed, Mr. Greenberg was charged more, increasing his criminal exposure.
Mr Greenberg initially wanted to crack the charges, but he began working with federal investigators late last year when faced with the possibility that he could spend decades in prison if convicted in a trial. He gave details of crimes he had committed and how he, Mr. Gaetz, and other women frequently paid for sex, said the person who had been briefed on the investigation.
Despite his cooperation with the government, Mr. Greenberg continued to break the law and a federal judge ordered him to be jailed in March for violating bail terms.
At a trial in Orlando in April, Mr. Greenberg’s attorney Fritz Scheller and Justice Department attorney Roger B. Handberg announced that Mr. Greenberg was likely to plead guilty in the coming weeks.
After this hearing, Mr. Scheller sent a threatening signal to Mr. Gaetz in front of the courthouse about the direction of the government’s investigation.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very well today,” said Mr. Scheller at the time.