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DOJ veterans say latest twist in Matt Gaetz sex trafficking investigation could be most ‘frightening’ for lawmakers yet


Rep. Matt Gaetz. AP

  • Gaetz is under more pressure as his partner Joel Greenberg is close to a plea deal.

  • If Greenberg cooperates, it means someone with whom Gaetz allegedly conspired “would be working with the government,” a former FBI agent said.

  • Greenberg could shed light on Gaetz’s intention, which is crucial in building a case against him.

  • See more stories on the Insider business page.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has been in hot water since The New York Times reported a Justice Department investigation into whether he had sex with a minor and raped them. federal sex trafficking laws.

Pressure on Gaetz surged on Thursday after attorneys representing Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector indicted in connection with the inquiry, told a judge Greenberg was set to agree a plea agreement.

It is a seismic development that sows trouble for Gaetz, whose Friendship with Greenberg dates back at least to 2017. The two grew up in wealthy Florida circles and shared similar interests, and Greenberg told BuzzFeed News in 2018 that he viewed Gaetz as a mentor.

It’s unclear what the terms of his plea deal will be. An agreement has not been formalized and the stipulations may vary from an accused complainant guilty but refusing to disclose information about other targets to plead guilty and agree to cooperate, which would provide additional leniency in determining of the trouble.

Either way, law enforcement veterans have said, this puts Gaetz in a very unenviable position.

“It does not bode well that his friend and alleged partner in crime has just agreed to a plea deal,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Department of Justice.

“What worries Gaetz is if there is a cooperation agreement in this matter which involves the defendant turning against him,” said Sherine Ebadi, a former FBI agent who was the chief agent in the government’s case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul. Manafort. “It gets scary for the co-conspirators because they know that someone who is either aware of their crimes or someone they co-conspired with is now working with the government.”

Others echoed this assessment.

“Put simply: as an attorney, you don’t turn over Greenberg unless he gives you Gaetz,” Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, wrote.

The Florida lawmaker has not been charged with any crime and he has fervently denied the allegations against him, saying the department’s investigation was part of an elaborate extortion plan targeting his family. A Gaetz spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Greenberg’s lawyer makes unusual statement

Greenberg’s attorney, Fritz Scheller, appeared to hint at a plea deal involving cooperation on Thursday, telling reporters after a court hearing: “I’m sure Matt Gaetz doesn’t feel very comfortable today ‘ hui. “

That said, it is unusual for prosecutors or defense attorneys to publicize the existence of a plea agreement because they would want to avoid informing other targets.

“It’s certainly an interesting statement,” Ebadi said of Scheller’s comments. “It makes you wonder what was the motive behind this.”

She added that she had dealt with cases in which co-operators “tried to work on both sides” because “they know they have the power to exert pressure against someone, and they want to try to negotiate some kind of ‘okay not to cooperate’.

“I do not know if [Scheller’s] foreshadowing, I don’t know what the motive would be because generally cooperators don’t want people to know they are cooperating, “Ebadi said.” But maybe this money has passed because this matter has been so publicly discussed. “

When working with cooperative witnesses, prosecutors also consider the credibility of the person because “now you are dealing with a person who has already admitted to a crime and is motivated to tell you what you want to hear, because it benefits them by potentially reducing their sentence, “Ebadi said.

To verify the information they obtain, investigators look for documents, financial records and electronic filings to corroborate the testimony of a cooperating witness.

Former Justice Department officials said this case, in particular, may not be difficult to resolve.

Investigators have a huge pile of breadcrumbs to follow

Gaetz is suspected of having sex with a woman when she was 17 in 2019. Investigators are also looking into whether he paid her to cross state borders and is breaking sex trafficking laws . The investigation seeks to find out whether the Florida lawmaker used campaign money to fund women’s travel, and the Times reported that investigators were examining Gaetz and Greenberg’s interactions with “several women who were recruited in. online for sex and received cash payments “.

CBS News reported that prosecutors were also focusing on a trip Gaetz took to the Bahamas in late 2018 or early 2019 with a hand surgeon and a marijuana contractor who is accused of footing the bill for the sex workers, hotel rooms and travel expenses. On Thursday, The Daily Beast reported that Gaetz sent Greenberg $ 900 via Venmo in 2018 and that Greenberg then sent $ 900, in varying amounts, to three young women.

“The problem for the congressman is that anything that involves travel with others always leaves behind a trail of documents and records,” Cramer said. “If he traveled with an underage girl while having sex with her, records exist to prove it.”

The woman Gaetz is suspected of having sex with is now said to be 19 and may also be willing to speak to investigators, he added.

What Greenberg might tell prosecutors

Then there is other information that prosecutors would need to build a strong case, details that they might not be able to glean from files and documents. This is where Greenberg comes in.

On the one hand, he might have been aware of conversations in which only he and Gaetz were present or of private communications that took place on encrypted apps, in text messages that could have been deleted, or on a burner phone.

“There could be a number of things they’ve done that the government may not have access to or even know exist,” Ebadi said.

But the most important thing he can talk about, she added, is whether Gaetz has expressed his intention in the behavior he’s accused of engaging in.

“Depending on what prosecutors charge, often one element in various cases is intent, or proof of someone’s knowledge or will in committing a crime,” Ebadi said, adding that with Greenberg, “you might have someone who was present when [Gaetz] was making statements like “I’m going to do this” or “I’m doing this for these particular reasons”. These are crucial words in a case like this, especially when it comes to that element of intention. “

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