Joel Greenberg, a long-time associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, has pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of a minor and other federal crimes and agreed to cooperate with U.S. Department of Justice investigators — which, according to New York Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt, makes the former Seminole County, Florida tax collector "a potential key witness" if Gaetz is charged with any crimes.
The DOJ has been investigating allegations that Gaetz was sexually involved with a 17-year-old girl — an allegation that the far-right Republican congressman, a passionate supporter of former President Donald Trump, has flatly denied. Gaetz has even fundraised off the investigation, claiming that he is being persecuted by "the Deep State" for standing up for Trump's agenda. In one of his fundraising e-mails, Gaetz sounded very Trump-like when he wrote, "I will not back down from the Fake News hacks that want to destroy me and America-First patriots like you. I am more determined than ever to shut down this HOAX, and I am glad to have President Trump on my side."
Schmidt reports that Greenberg "did not implicate Mr. Gaetz by name in papers filed by prosecutors in Federal District Court in Orlando" but "admitted that he and unidentified others had paid a 17-year-old girl for sex and that he had provided her with drugs." In the court papers, Greenberg admitted that he "introduced the minor to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts."
The Times has reported that according to sources, Gaetz asked Trump for a blanket pardon during his final weeks in the White House, but the outgoing president declined.
In the court papers filed on Friday, Greenberg, according to Schmidt, admitted to other crimes as well — including identify theft, stealing money from local taxpayers in Florida and defrauding the federal government.
Greenberg has been a target of DOJ investigators since 2020, and that investigation became a bigger story this year when Gaetz's name appeared in connection with it in news reports.
Schmidt explains, "As the inquiry ensnared Mr. Gaetz and other influential Florida Republicans and burst into national news in recent weeks, reports have portrayed them as a freewheeling group that frequented parties, sometimes took the mood-altering drug ecstasy and, in some cases, paid women they had sex with. Mr. Gaetz has denied paying for sex and said that his generosity toward former girlfriends was being misconstrued."
The Times reporter notes that Greenberg is "facing 12 years in prison" but could receive a shorter sentence "if his cooperation results in the prosecutions of others."
"Prosecutors revealed in the documents that they have evidence they say corroborates 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," Schmidt notes. "The inclusion of that material appeared designed to bolster the credibility of Mr. Greenberg as a witness whose truthfulness would likely be challenged by anyone who is charged based on anything he tells prosecutors."