ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – An associate of Representative Matt Gaetz is working on a plea deal with federal prosecutors investigating a sex trafficking operation, potentially increasing the legal and political danger facing the Florida congressman.
The revelation that Gaetz’s political ally, Joel Greenberg, is seeking a plea deal with investigators came during a hearing in federal court in Orlando on Thursday. This is a milestone in the case and indicates that Greenberg could potentially serve as a witness in the Justice Department’s investigation into Gaetz.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz doesn’t feel very comfortable today,” Fritz Scheller, a lawyer for Greenberg, said after the hearing.
Federal prosecutors are examining whether Gaetz and Greenberg paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they could not discuss the details publicly. Gaetz has denied the allegations and insists he will not resign his seat in Congress.
A call to the congressman’s cell phone on Thursday resulted in a message that he was not accepting calls at this time. He also did not reply to a text message.
When asked directly if Greenberg, a former local tax collector outside of Orlando, was cooperating with prosecutors in the Gaetz case, Scheller cited solicitor-client privilege. But he said Greenberg’s cooperation would likely depend on whether or not prosecutors need to get a plea deal.
“If someone signs a cooperation agreement, they have to cooperate,” Scheller told reporters outside the Orlando federal courthouse.
Scheller also declined to answer when asked if Greenberg had incriminating evidence against Gaetz.
“I think if Mr. Greenberg accepts a plea deal, he will want to show his sense of remorse, which he has, and his sense of accepting responsibility,” Scheller said. “It is only located.”
Greenberg’s legal troubles began last summer when he was arrested on charges of tracking down a political opponent. Greenberg posted bogus letters to his opponent’s school signed by a nonexistent “very concerned student” who alleged the opponent engaged in sexual misconduct with another student, a June indictment says. latest.
Last August, Greenberg was charged with sex trafficking a young girl aged 14 to 17 and using a state database to search for information about the girl and other people he was interviewing with. “Sugar Daddy” relationships, according to indictment.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges. According to the indictment, additional charges accusing Greenberg of embezzling $ 400,000 from the Seminole County tax collector’s office were added last month.
Greenberg was due to be tried in Orlando in June.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell said Thursday the trial would be postponed to July if Greenberg was unable to reach an agreement with prosecutors by the middle of next month.
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