The indicted friend of Representative Matt Gaetz who is at the center of a federal investigation involving the congressman is in talks to potentially strike a plea deal, putting increased pressure on the Florida Republican accused of having connections sex with a minor and paying her to travel with him across state borders.
In a court hearing on Thursday, federal prosecutor Roger Handberg and defense attorney Fritz Scheller said they expected a plea change in the case of Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector for the Orlando area who was charged with sex trafficking last year. Handberg said negotiations are ongoing, while Scheller asked for a May 15 deadline for the two sides to come to an agreement or go to trial.
Greenberg was the Seminole County tax collector when the Justice Department indicted him in August on several counts, including criminal harassment, identity theft, wire fraud, and unlawfully obtaining personal information and sex trafficking of a minor. Gaetz’s friend has previously pleaded not guilty to all counts, although federal prosecutors said in Thursday’s brief hearing that they expected a plea change in his case.
If Greenberg decides to agree to a plea deal, it could mean he would cooperate with investigators to nab more high-profile targets to reduce his own sentence. Handberg and Scheller’s willingness for Greenberg to change his plea strongly suggests that he is willing to give an insider account of his activities with others, and although Gaetz’s name was not mentioned, their association is well known.
The Greenberg investigation led federal authorities to launch a separate investigation into Gaetz, a loyal supporter of Donald Trump who represents a predominantly conservative Florida district. The Justice Department investigated whether Greenberg introduced Gaetz to the women he found on websites that feature sex workers looking for “sugar daddy” relationships in exchange for sex.
Investigators are also looking into whether Gaetz and Greenberg shared sex partners – and paid them with money, hotels, travel, and drugs in return for sex – including a 17-year-old girl already. central to Greenberg’s case. Gaetz had not been charged with any crime related to the investigation as of Thursday.
In 2018, Gaetz paid Greenberg $ 900 via Venmo with the “hit up __” memo, using a nickname for one of the girls, according to documents on Greenberg’s Venmo transitions obtained by The Daily Beast. Greenberg allegedly paid three young women a collective sum of $ 900 six hours later, describing the transactions as “tuition”, “school” and “school”. According to The Daily Beast, the girl Gaetz requested had turned 18 less than six months before the deal.
Although paying adult women for sex is considered a state-decided crime, the transaction turns into a federal sex trafficking crime if there are provisions allowing people to cross state borders in order to engage in prostitution. According to the Washington Post, investigators are specifically looking at a flight Gaetz took to the Bahamas in late 2018 or early 2019 with female escorts and Orlando hand surgeon Jason Pirozzolo, a former pilot Gaetz described. like his close friend.
Sources told CNN that Gaetz has a reputation for bragging about his sexual conquests to fellow Congressmen, showing photos and videos of naked women he claimed to have had sex with. It is not known if the alleged photos are related to the DOJ investigation, but it is likely that such photos and videos would have been shown without the consent of the women.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz doesn’t feel very comfortable today,” Scheller told reporters after the hearing, adding that Greenberg was “in a unique position” to help with the investigation and was arguing. an agreement “with the least visibility possible.”
A Gaetz spokesperson did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. However, lawmakers have previously denied wrongdoing, specifically stating that he did not have sex with a minor. His office released a statement – shortly after reporting Greenberg’s likely plea – that the wives of Gaetz’s staff had defended the congressman. According to the US House directory, there are six women in Gaetz’s office.
“In our office and under the leadership of Congressman Gaetz, women are not only respected, but have been encouraged time and again to grow up, do more and, ultimately, know our worth,” it read. in the statement, which was notably not signed by any of the women who allegedly wrote it.
If Greenberg decides to help the prosecution in the case against Gaetz, he could face hurdles to his credibility due to his separate accusations of having sex with a minor and falsely accusing an opponent. pedophile policy. Greenberg was initially charged with charges relating to his attempt to fabricate charges and evidence of racism and sexual misconduct against Brian Beute, his rival in the tax-collector race, before facing a bet charged with 33 counts.
The former tax collector was also charged with wire fraud and submitting false statements in order to secure an economic injury disaster loan from the coronavirus-linked paycheck protection program while he was out. from jail on bail. Greenberg resigned after investigators arrested him on charges of stalking and child sex trafficking, leaving a stain on a political reputation he forged for himself by overthrowing a longtime incumbent, allowing his deputies for carrying guns at work and bragging about his connections with top Republicans including Trump, Gaetz and political agent Roger Stone.
Prosecutors said Greenberg abused his access to a state-wide database in order to search for personal information about the women and girls with whom he had a “sugar daddy” relationship – y including the 17-year-old – and to help fabricate fake IDs to “aid his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts.” Greenberg had brought Gaetz to the tax collector’s office on several occasions and had an employee help him produce a replacement ID card for Gaetz after the congressman apparently lost his wallet, according to the Post. and the Orlando Sentinel.
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