Gaetz Ally’s Sex-Trafficking Guilty Plea Accepted by Judge
(Bloomberg) -- The guilty plea of a political ally of U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz in a child sex-trafficking case was accepted by a judge, adding to legal peril facing the outspoken Republican congressman.
Former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, who was hit with nearly three dozen charges last year, agreed to cooperate extensively against other individuals at a change-of-plea hearing Monday in federal court in Orlando, court records show. Greenberg pleaded guilty to six counts, according to a filing Monday.
An 86-page plea agreement filed with the court on Friday doesn’t identify others under scrutiny by prosecutors. The New York Times has reported that the Justice Department is investigating whether Gaetz, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, violated federal sex-trafficking laws through his connection with Greenberg.
The plea deal, which was expected, adds to a growing legal threat against one of the stars of the Republican party’s pro-Trump wing. As the Greenberg case intensified in recent weeks, Gaetz hired one of Trump’s criminal defense attorneys and a political consultant who was previously a contestant on Trump’s “Apprentice” reality TV shows, doubling down on his connection to the former president.
According to the plea deal, Greenberg engaged in “sugar daddy” relationships with women and at least one minor he met online. He used a secretive bank account and cryptocurrency transactions to pay them for sex, at one point using money from his tax collecting job, the filing said.
Gaetz has denied ever paying for sex or having sex with a minor.
“Joel Greenberg has now confessed to falsely accusing an innocent man of having sex with a minor,” Harlan Hill, a spokesman for Gaetz, said in an emailed statement after Greenberg pleaded guilty.
Hill was referring to stalking and identity-theft charges to which Greenberg also pleaded guilty in connection with a smear campaign he carried out against a teacher who challenged him for the tax collector job. Greenberg created fake letters and Facebook messages alleging the teacher engaged in sexual misconduct with students and fake Twitter posts suggesting the teacher was a White supremacist.
Greenberg had his first sexual encounter with the minor he trafficked on a boat, and he paid her $400, according to the filing. After he learned he was under investigation last year, Greenberg contacted the minor at the center of the probe and attempted to convince her to lie, the plea deal said.
Earlier this month, Republican operative Roger Stone denied a Daily Beast report that he’d asked Greenberg for $250,000 to request a pardon from Trump before he left office. Stone, who knows both Gaetz and Greenberg, said he never made the request and a pardon was never granted.
The case is U.S. v. Greenberg, 6:20-cr-97, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida (Orlando).
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