The Gaetz investigation: Alleged victim may be cooperating with feds; Associate likely to enter plea deal
This is an attempt to summarize the case and the allegations in a short, understandable fashion. It is a surprisingly complicated story – Greenberg has a lot of outlandish and potentially criminal behavior; it’s impossible to include it all without writing a novel.
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How the investigation started
The reported federal investigation in Rep. Matt Gaetz grew out of a probe into former Florida tax collector and friend of Gaetz, Joel Greenberg. The saga began with allegations of misconduct months after Greenberg took office in 2016: he was giving jobs to unqualified friends, wasting taxpayer money on unnecessary contracts, and running what one anonymous complainant called the “Greenberg Mafia” out of the Seminole County Tax Collector’s Office. However, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement determined that there was “still not a criminal predicate” to investigate.
- Politico: “[Greenberg’s] Seminole County tax office was the only one in the state where employees were armed with pistols and body armor. He wore his own law enforcement badge and carried a sidearm at tax collector conferences. He let people pay property taxes with Bitcoin. He tweeted Islamophobic comments, installed a remote-controlled sprinkler system to spray petition gatherers he didn’t like and doled out fat contracts to his groomsmen shortly after winning the usually humdrum Orlando-area office with a campaign to stop ‘crony capitalism.’”
Greenberg finally garnered the attention of federal investigators when he fabricated evidence of sexual misconduct against his primary opponent in October 2019 in an attempt to smear him. Authorities arrested Greenberg and searched his electronic devices, discovering proof of dozens of federal crimes. He is now charged with 33 counts, including sex trafficking of a minor (over 14 but under 18 years old), stalking a political opponent, making fake IDs, aggravated identity theft, bribing a political official, money laundering, and wire fraud.
- Count 1 – Sex Trafficking of a Child – November 2017 – victim between 14 and 18 years old.
- Count 2 – Driver’s Privacy Protection Act Violations – September 4, 2017 – Minor Victim.
- Count 3 – Driver’s Privacy Protection Act Violations – November 18, 2017 – Victim R.Z.
- Count 4 – Unlawful Use of Means of Identification of Another Person – September 4, 2017 – Minor Victim.
- Count 5 – Production of an Identification Document – November 11, 2015 – Victim R.Z.
- Count 6 – Aggravated Identity Theft – November 11, 2015 – Victim R.Z.
- Count 7 – Production of Identification and False Identification Documents – sometime between November 11, 2017 and June 23, 2020 – Victim R.Z. (with Greenberg’s photograph).
- Count 8 – Production of Identification and False Identification Documents – sometime between September 21, 2018 and June 23, 2020 – Puerto Rico driver’s license of victim E.J.C.C. (with Greenberg’s photograph).
- Count 9 – Aggravated Identity Theft – sometime between November 11, 2017 and June 23, 2020 – Victim R.Z.
- Count 10 – Aggravated Identity Theft – sometime between September 21, 2018 and June 23, 2020 – Puerto Rico driver’s license of victim E.J.C.C.
- Count 11 – Wire Fraud – November 8, 2017 – $1,500 credit card charge using Tax Collector’s Office American Express card.
- Count 12 – Wire Fraud – December 4, 2017 – involving an email to “an employee at Entity A.”
- Count 13 – Wire Fraud – December 12, 2018 – involving an email to “an employee at Entity A.”
- Count 14 – Wire Fraud – December 20, 2028 – a $200,000 wire transfer from a Tax Collector’s Office ac* Count to Entity A’s account.
- Count 15 – Wire Fraud – September 20, 2019 – a $5,000 transfer from Government Blockchain Systems, LLC to Greenberg’s personal account.
- Count 16 – Wire Fraud – September 24, 2019 – another $5,000 transfer from Government Blockchain Systems, LLC to Greenberg’s personal account.
- Count 17 – Wire Fraud – October 15, 2019 – another $5,000 transfer from Government Blockchain Systems, LLC to Greenberg’s personal account.
- Count 18 – Wire Fraud – October 17, 2019 – another $5,000 transfer from Government Blockchain Systems, LLC to Greenberg’s personal account.
- Count 19 – Wire Fraud – November 2, 2019 – a wire transfer “to establish a seller ac* Count at Amazon.”
- Count 20 – Wire Fraud – January 17, 2020 – a “$599.95 credit card charge to purchase an autographed Michael Jordon photograph using an American Express card of the Tax Collector’s Office.”
- Count 21 – Illegal Monetary Transactions – December 29, 2017 – transfer of $100,000 to Greenberg’s personal account.
- Count 22 – Illegal Monetary Transactions – December 29, 2019 – transfer of $10,000 in Bitcoin to a cryptocurrency wallet belonging to Greenberg.
- Count 23 – Illegal Monetary Transactions – December 24, 2018 – transfer of $100,000 in Bitcoin “in the name of the Tax Collector’s Office” to a “cryptocurrency wallet controlled by” Greenberg.
- Count 24 – Stalking – October 10, 2019 to November 15, 2019 – involving the political opponent/teacher.
- Count 25 – Unlawful Use of Means of Identification of Another Person – November 2, 2019 – involving the fake Twitter ac* Count bearing the political opponent/teacher’s name.
- Count 26 – Conspiracy to Bribe a Public Official, Submission of a False Claim, Theft of Government Property, and Wire Fraud – Jan. 2017 – SBA loans.
- Count 27 – Bribery of a Public Official – July 17, 2020 – for a $3,000 payment Greenberg allegedly made to an SBA employee.
- Count 28 – Submission of a False Claim – EIDL application for Joel Greenberg.
- Count 29 – Submission of a False Claim – EIDL application for DG3 Network.
- Count 30 – Submission of a False Claim – EIDL application for Greenberg Media.
- Count 31 – Theft of Government Property – $132,900 in EIDL proceeds for Joel Greenberg.
- Count 32 – Theft of Government Property – $149,900 in EIDL proceeds for DG3 Network.
- Count 33 – Theft of Government Property – $149,900 in EIDL proceeds for Greenberg Media.
The most serious charge – sex trafficking – is tied to the fake ID charges: Greenberg allegedly accessed the Florida Driver and Vehicle Information Database to create fake driver’s licenses, which were then used “to facilitate” Greenberg’s “efforts to engage in commercial sex acts,” including the sex trafficking of a minor. Prosecutors say this conduct occurred during 2017; Gaetz and Greenberg were documented meeting together during this time frame (see below).
According to the New York Times (non-paywalled version), Greenberg has been cooperating with the Justice Department since last year, “providing investigators with information since last year about an array of topics, including Mr. Gaetz’s activities”. Sources told the Times that Greenberg admitted to giving women “cash or gifts in exchange for sex,” but it is unknown what he has told investigators about Gaetz.
During a court hearing last week, Greenberg’s lawyer and a federal prosecutor informed the judge that he was likely to plead guilty in the coming weeks. “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Greenberg’s lawyer told reporters after (clip).
- The other charges against Greenberg stem from using Tax Collector Office funds to enrich himself and friends, cryptocurrency fraud, and SBA loan fraud.
Greenberg meets Gaetz
We don’t know exactly when Greenberg and Gaetz became friends. One clue, though, is Greenberg’s hiring of lobbyist Chris Dorworth in March of 2017. Gaetz and Dorworth were roommates when the former was a state lawmaker (2010-2016). No matter how the two met, we know Greenberg and Gaetz met in Miami on July 8, 2017; a photo posted by Greenberg on Twitter shows himself with Gaetz and Roger Stone, perhaps at the Four Seasons Hotel evidenced on an expense report.
- Greenberg posted a picture of himself with Gaetz on March 6, 2018, at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention. Then, in June 2019, he tweeted a photo of himself, Gaetz, and Dorworth at the White House.
In April 2018, Greenberg was captured on internal office surveillance video with Gaetz inside the tax collector’s office in the middle of a weekend night. According to reports, the two men can be seen looking through driver licenses – potentially tying Gaetz to the fake ID scheme run by Greenberg.
Text messages that were viewed by the Sentinel showed an employee had later asked Greenberg if he’d visited the office that weekend, to which Greenberg replied via text that he had been, and was “showing congressman Gaetz what our operation looked like.”
Gaetz tried to explain his presence that night:
“I have never been involved in whatever Greenberg was doing with IDs,” Gaetz told POLITICO. “Once I temporarily lost my wallet and asked if I could go to his office and get a lawful replacement. This is what tax collectors do. I later found my wallet and didn’t need this service.”
The Daily Beast obtained text messages from that evening, as well as ones from September 2018 in which Greenberg contacts an employee to ask them to create a new driver license for Gaetz – one that would normally require providing additional documentation to comply with the REAL ID Act. It was these text messages that led investigators to first look into Gaetz.
Sex trafficking allegations
Gaetz and Greenberg often socialized together, according to numerous sources:
Though a Northwest Florida congressman, Gaetz had a busy travel and personal schedule that often brought him through the Orlando area where Greenberg lived. He did frequent TV hits from the Fox 35 studio in Orlando, one friend noted, and would sometimes double date with Greenberg and women in their 20s. (Politico)
Gaetz allegedly bragged about his sexual experiences to lawmakers, even showing colleagues photos and videos of nude women he had slept with. One source told the Washington Post that the congressman attributed these experiences to his relationship with Greenberg:
“Matt was never shy about talking about his relationship to Joel and the access to women that Joel provided him,” said one of these people who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid. “What these videos implied was that there was something of a sexual nature going on with everyone.”
The federal investigation into Gaetz reportedly revolves around (1) whether he explicitly exchanged money or gifts for sex with adult women; (2) whether he did so with at least one girl who was 17 years old at the time; (3) whether either situation violates federal sex trafficking law.
Pattern of behavior:
The Justice Department is repotedly examining whether Gaetz had sex with the same 17 year old from Greenberg’s indictment for sex trafficking of a minor. Sources told the New York Times that the two men often had relations with the same women: “Mr. Greenberg introduced the women to Mr. Gaetz, who also had sex with them, the people said. One of the women who had sex with both men also agreed to have sex with an unidentified associate of theirs in Florida Republican politics…”
Evidence of payments:
The Daily Beast obtained records of Venmo transactions from Gaetz to Greenberg, who then sent the money to various women.
The memo field for the first of Gaetz’s transactions to Greenberg was titled “Test.” In the second, the Florida GOP congressman wrote “hit up ___.” But instead of a blank, Gaetz wrote a nickname for one of the recipients. (The Daily Beast is not sharing that nickname because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.) When Greenberg then made his Venmo payments to these three young women, he described the money as being for “Tuition,” “School,” and “School.”
…Gaetz and Greenberg share Venmo connections with at least two women who received payments from Greenberg…In 2018, Greenberg also paid another woman, a mutual friend of Gaetz’s, several thousand dollars using his taxpayer-backed Seminole County-issued Wells Fargo Visa card…
Definition of sex trafficking:
The applicable federal law defining sex trafficking implicates anyone who “recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, obtains, advertises, maintains, patronizes, or solicits by any means a person” knowing that force, threats of force, fraud, or coercion “will be used to cause the person to engage in a commercial sex act, or that the person has not attained the age of 18 years and will be caused to engage in a commercial sex act.”
Furthermore, a commercial sex act is defined as “any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person” – meaning there must be a quid pro quo, something of value exchanged for sex. The level of proof rises above a date in which on party pays all expenses and after which the couple has sex. This includes if one of the parties is under 18 years old. If such an exchange cannot be proven in relation to the allegations against Gaetz, but sexual relations with a 17 year old can be proven, a state-level statutory rape charge would be more likely.
So far, we don’t know if law enforcement has enough evidence for any of the charges discussed.
According to Politico, a former girlfriend of Gaetz believes the woman who was an alleged sex-trafficking victim when she was a minor is now cooperating with federal investigators. Gaetz’s ex told friends that the victim and another woman involved in the case called her last August to discuss Gaetz in what may have been a recorded conference call.
The friends did not provide details about exactly what was discussed, but one recounted that Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend said she was opposed to talking to authorities and is now worried that prosecutors might try to charge her with obstructing justice in order to get to Gaetz.
The former girlfriend in question attended a September 2018 trip to the Bahamas with Gaetz, the alleged victim (who turned 18 months before the trip), and the other woman on the call. Also involved: Halsey Beshears, then a Republican state legislator, and Jason Pirozzolo, a hand surgeon and Republican fundraiser for DeSantis.
Federal authorities are examining the Bahamas trip to see if it violated the Mann Act, which forbids transporting people across state lines to engage in prostitution. One woman on the trip told POLITICO that no one engaged in prostitution.
Gaetz is said to have sought a “blanket preemptive” pardon from the Trump White House during the final weeks of the administration. The request included pardons for “unidentified congressional allies,” as well, leading some Trump associates to speculate that it was an attempt “to camouflage his own potential criminal exposure.”
We now know that Gaetz was aware that he was under investigation at the time: Federal agents executed a search warrant in December 2020, seizing both Gaetz’s iPhone and his former girlfriend’s phone.
Human Rights Watch: “Why Sex Work Should Be Decriminalized”
ACLU: “Sex Work is Real Work, and it’s Time to Treat it That Way”
Harvard Civil Rights: “To Protect Women, Legalize Prostitution”
Further reading: “Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers’ Rights,” by Molly Smith and Juno Mac. Amazon, Abes Books (used books)