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Former Gaetz associate strikes deal to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors

An indicted close confidant of Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz has struck a deal with federal prosecutors to greatly reduce his criminal case and plans to help investigators in their sprawling investigation that includes a sex trafficking probe.

Joel Greenberg, a former Seminole County, Florida, tax commissioner, had faced decades in prison on 33 federal counts that ranged from identity theft to sex trafficking of a minor, as well as fraud and bribery allegations.

He plans to now plead guilty to six federal charges, after striking a deal with prosecutors, including a count of sex trafficking of a child, according to a new court filing.

READ: Plea agreement from former Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg

The Greenberg plea documents released Friday paint the picture of a man gone wild — using popular cellphone apps to make contacts, paying thousands of dollars for sex with younger women, having drug-laced, multi-person rendezvous at hotels like an Embassy Suites, and repeatedly taking advantage of his public office’s power and financial coffers.

The Orlando-based federal court revealed on Thursday that Greenberg was planning to plead guilty next week, but details weren’t initially available.

Federal investigators are still examining whether Gaetz broke federal sex trafficking, prostitution and public corruption laws and whether he had sex with a minor. Gaetz has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing. The congressman isn’t mentioned in the 86 pages of plea deal documents released on Friday.

Gaetz spokesman Harlan Hill questioned Greenberg’s credibility while insisting on his client’s innocence in a statement. “Congressman Gaetz doesn’t seem to be named nor referenced in Mr. Greenberg’s plea,” Hill said. “Congressman Gaetz has never had sex with a minor and has never paid for sex. Mr. Greenberg has now pleaded guilty to falsely accusing someone else of sex with a minor. That person was innocent. So is Congressman Gaetz.”

In the plea agreement, Greenberg admitted to falsely accusing a Florida teacher of having sex with a student in 2019. Greenberg allegedly targeted the teacher after he filed paperwork to oppose Greenberg for county tax collector. Greenberg admits to sending anonymous letters to school officials, purported to be from a “concerned student” alleging an inappropriate relationship between a student and the teacher. Greenberg also amplified these false claims on social media sites, where he alleged the teacher had raped a student.

Greenberg’s pattern of false statements and accusations could be used to undermine his credibility as a witness in any case where he is called to testify.

The investigation

The investigation into Greenberg resulted in an indictment last June on allegations of elaborate schemes against a political opponent and making fake IDs.

The bulk of the charges revolved around accusations Greenberg stalked and harassed a political opponent who worked at a school, by trying to falsely frame the person as a white supremacist and child abuser, on a fake Twitter account he allegedly set up using the person’s name and photograph and in nine letters he mailed to the school where he posed as an anonymous student.

Previously, CNN reported that Greenberg had been providing information to investigators about how he and Gaetz had encounters with women who were given cash or gifts in exchange for sex.

And prosecutors hint at others whom Greenberg was in contact with.

As part of his plea deal, Greenberg plans to admit in court that he introduced a child “to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts with the Minor in the Middle District of Florida,” according to the document filed Friday.

After he was arrested, Greenberg also contacted the victim, “directly and through one of the Minor’s friends” to encourage the person to lie, the document said.

Prosecutors describe the sex trafficking scheme in the plea documents as a series of “sugar daddy”-style relationships where Greenberg frequently tried to hide some of his 150 or more payments to women.

He paid women more than $70,000 for sex over two years through December 2018, the document detailing his admissions says.

Greenberg sought out women on a website for “sugar daddies,” prosecutors said, then paid them through his personal Venmo account, bank account and credit card. He also used an American Express card from his tax collector’s office.

When he would send the payments of a few hundred dollars over the mobile app Venmo, Greenberg would mark them as school-related, “food” or “ice cream” expenses.

A girl who at the time was younger than 18 had met Greenberg over the website, prosecutors said, and told him she was an adult. They then communicated over Snapchat, another messaging app, until they met on a boat.

On the boat, they didn’t have sex, but Greenberg still paid the girl $400, prosecutors say. Later, Greenberg paid more than $400 for sex with the girl at a hotel in central Florida, he admits in the plea deal.

The hotel meetings then became more frequent — as did Greenberg’s communications with the victim in 2017. And Greenberg began to offer paying her and others to take the drug Ecstasy, Greenberg admitted in his plea documents.

“Greenberg and the Minor met at hotels in the Middle District of Florida, often with others, at which Greenberg and the Minor engaged in commercial sex acts,” at least seven times, his plea admissions document says.

Greenberg also is admitting as part of his plea deal to a cryptocurrency scam, where he used tax collector funds to buy crypto, to scamming the federal coronavirus aid program, and to harassing a teacher who was his political opponent.

He also admits that he leveraged his access to a state driver’s license system to make fake IDs. The women he paid for sex he also offered some of the licenses he stole, prosecutors say.

Court appearance Monday

Greenberg, as part of his deal, agreed to give “substantial assistance” to prosecutors, including by testifying at trials or in federal grand juries if needed and in turning over all documents he might have that could help the federal inquiry.

Greenberg’s admitted sex charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, yet prosecutors in the plea deal said that if he helped them significantly, he may be able get a sentence less than the minimum.

He also will have to forfeit at least $650,000 obtained illegally and pay restitution to victims, the plea agreement said.

A judge will consider the plea agreement and will decide whether to accept Greenberg’s admissions in court at a hearing Monday in Orlando.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct a reference to Greenberg’s potential credibility as a witness. It has also been updated with a statement from Gaetz’s office.

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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