“Stunning”: Reporters who uncovered Matt Gaetz evidence baffled after DOJ drops sex trafficking case

"Given what we've seen, the decision not to charge Gaetz seems pretty f**king remarkable," said Roger Sollenberger

Published February 16, 2023 12:43PM (EST)

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., will not be charged in connection with a federal sex trafficking investigation, according to lawyers involved in the case.

Gaetz's attorney Isabelle Kirshner shared in a statement with CNN and The Daily Beast that the Justice Department informed them of their decision on Wednesday.

"We have just spoken with the DOJ and have been informed that they have concluded their investigation into Congressman Gaetz and allegations related to sex trafficking and obstruction of justice and they have determined not to bring any charges against him," wrote Kirshner.

The Justice Department initially relied on the testimony of Gaetz's friend Joel Greenberg, a local Florida tax official who was charged with corruption but agreed to be a cooperating witness in the case. 

As the investigation continued, federal officials found evidence that Gaetz regularly sought out young women for sex, which made their final decision not to press charges frustrating for Greenberg and his lawyer, Fritz Scheller.

"While the decision is troubling, it's not surprising. After so many years of defense practice, I've slowly come to the realization that our country has a two-tier system of justice," Scheller told The Daily Beast. "To be fair, why expend resources prosecuting the privileged, when there's undoubtedly a minority out there with a small amount of pot?"

The investigation into Gaetz came after allegations emerged that the congressman had sex with a 17-year-old girl. The Justice Department investigated whether Gaetz had paid or illegally trafficked the girl to have sex. His ex-girlfriend was granted immunity last year for testifying in front of a federal grand jury. 

Gaetz denied all the allegations against him, despite Greenberg, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for sex trafficking, sharing a confession letter in 2021 that said he and Gaetz paid to have sex with multiple women including the 17-year-old girl.

The federal probe into the Florida lawmaker began in March 2021, but during the Jan. 6 investigation, details emerged that Gaetz asked multiple aides of former President Donald Trump to issue him a preemptive pardon before the DOJ even launched an official investigation into him. 

Trump aide Johnny McEntee testified that Gaetz told him that he didn't do anything wrong, but "they" were trying to make his life "hell."

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After the New York Times broke the news that Gaetz was under investigation in 2021, The Daily Beast revealed key evidence supporting the case, including sources who were familiar with the operation describing how Greenberg was a "fixer" for Gaetz.

Other details emerged including private Venmo transactions that showed Gaetz sent Greenberg $900 late one night in May 2018. The next morning, Greenberg sent the exact same amount of money to three young women. In the years when the two men were close, Greenberg sent more than 150 Venmo payments to dozens of young women — including a girl whom Gaetz named in a private message that was just 17 at the time.

Greenberg's confession letter also detailed the instances in which Gaetz asked him to help him find college students to sleep with, including the underage girl who was at the center of the federal investigation. 

"On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida's 1st Congressional District and myself," Greenberg wrote in the letter obtained by the Daily Beast, referencing the 17-year-old girl.

"From time to time, gas money or gifts, rent or partial tuition payments were made to several of these girls, including the individual who was not yet 18," he wrote. "I did see the acts occur firsthand and Venmo transactions, Cash App or other payments were made to these girls on behalf of the Congressman."

Jose Pagliery, a political investigations reporter for the Daily Beast expressed his frustration with the Justice Department's decision on Twitter. 

"Feds had a confession letter. Private Venmos. Uber receipts. Flight records. Yet they still won't prosecute Congressman Matt Gaetz," he wrote. "This is all the more stunning, because [Roger Sollenberger] & I were the ones who exposed the evidence."

It was also reported that Gaetz did cocaine with an escort at a party, a young woman who had a no-show job at a Florida county office at the expense of taxpayers. Another event that was central to the investigation was a 2018 trip to the Bahamas during which Gaetz and his friend spent time with young women, including the underage girl, and allegedly paid for sex. Greenberg was not present at the trip, but Florida state Rep. Halsey Beshears was.

Considering the amount of evidence mounted against Gaetz, Greenberg's lawyer said he was frustrated that the DOJ dropped the case. "You've got multiple witnesses. You've got Venmos. You've got Uber receipts. You've got flight receipts and text messages," Scheller told The Daily Beast.

Matt Fuller, the Washington Bureau Chief for the outlet, shared his reaction to the decision not to press charges. "I've seen just a fraction of the evidence that the DOJ has seen," he wrote on Twitter. "Truly difficult to comprehend this decision."

In August, people familiar with the investigation were told that the feds would be continuing their investigation into Gaetz. However, last fall, several outlets reported that prosecutors recommended against charging Gaetz as the two central witnesses in the case — Greenberg and the 17-year-old girl — were not perceived to be credible. The New York Times reported that the girl "has said she does not believe she was a victim," which would introduce issues in court. 

Roger Sollenberger, a politics reporter at The Daily Beast (formerly at Salon), shared on Twitter that the decision not to charge Gaetz was "remarkable" considering the evidence their team obtained over the years. 

"We revealed a whole lot of evidence against Gaetz, including Venmos & a pardon letter Greenberg wrote to Donald Trump directly implicating Gaetz. DOJ also seized his phone in its obstruction probe, but declined to bring charges, reportedly citing possibly problematic witnesses," he wrote. "Given what we've seen, the decision not to charge Gaetz seems pretty f**king remarkable."

By Samaa Khullar

Samaa Khullar is a former news fellow at Salon with a background in Middle Eastern history and politics. She is a graduate of New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism institute and is pursuing investigative reporting.

MORE FROM Samaa Khullar

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Aggregate Joel Greenberg Matt Gaetz Politics