ORLANDO, Fla. – A former Florida local official facing a string of federal charges, including a sex trafficking count, is expected to plead guilty in the coming weeks, a prosecutor and defense attorney said Thursday in a designation that the defendant would can act as a crown witness against Representative Matt Gaetz, who is under investigation.
A plea from the former elected official, Joel Greenberg, could greatly strengthen the hand of the Justice Department in investigating Mr. Gaetz and others who met Mr. Greenberg through Republican politics in Florida and are investigating for possible violations of sex trafficking.
Mr. Greenberg met women through a website that connects people who are willing to go on dates in exchange for gifts and allowances, then introduced them to Mr. Gaetz, who had sex with them along with Mr. Greenberg, people who were familiar with the issue.
The prosecutor, Roger Handberg, made the disclosure of Mr. Greenberg's case during a six-minute hearing at the federal courthouse in Orlando, as did Mr. Greenberg's attorney, Fritz Scheller. Mr Greenberg was due to face trial in June, but both sides set a May 15 deadline for a plea deal. If they don't reach an agreement, the matter will go to court, they agreed.
“We think this case will be a plea,” said Mr Handberg.
Mr. Scheller added, "I expect this matter will be resolved with a plea deal."
Neither said whether Mr. Greenberg would agree to cooperate with the government's open investigation. Mr. Greenberg, 36, is likely to face 12 years in prison, and legal experts said if Mr. Greenberg had any hope of reducing that sentence, he should work with the Justice Department.
Collaboration in federal investigations typically involves being fully candid in interviews with investigators and witnesses in court cases and before grand juries in related investigations. Those who cooperate early usually get the best deals from prosecutors; no others are known to have been charged in this case.
Mr. Greenberg did not appear in court on Thursday. He was sent to prison in March for violating the terms of his bail.
Mr. Greenberg, who has known Mr. Gaetz since at least 2017 when he started in Congress, could give prosecutors a witness who has a thorough knowledge of Mr. Gaetz's dealings with women, can explain how the men paid the women and how the two men bought and used drugs, such as ecstasy.
Mr Gaetz, who has gained a national profile in recent years as a prominent supporter of President Donald J. Trump, denies having paid for sex. The investigation into him grew out of Mr. Greenberg's case.
The Department of Justice is investigating whether Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz has violated federal sex trafficking laws.
- 38-year-old Gaetz was elected to Congress in 2016 and became one of President Donald J. Trump's most outspoken advocates. The research focuses on the Representative's relationships with women who have been recruited for sex online and whether he has had sex with a 17-year-old girl.
- The study includes a study of payments to women. Investigators believe he paid for sex with a number of women he met through Joel Greenberg – a former Florida tax collector who was indicted last year on a federal sex trafficking charge, among other things – people close to the investigation told The New York Times.
- Mr. Gaetz has repeatedly dismissed the investigation as politically motivated and baseless, defending his past relationships with women. So far he has not been charged and the extent of his criminal exposure remains unclear. The investigation is continuing.
- The representative has alleged that his family is the target of two men who try to extort it for $ 25 million in exchange for it 'disappearing'. of possible legal problems. The men have denied trying to extort the Gaetzes.
- Mr. Gaetz told The Times he had no intention of resigning from Congress. But as the investigation progresses, he may come under pressure to resign or temporarily relinquish the House committee that oversees the Justice Department.
Mr. Greenberg was a tax collector candidate in Seminole County, northeast Orlando, in 2016, portraying himself as a crusade outsider who could restore the integrity of an office corrupted by career politicians.
After Mr. Greenberg won, he began to act offensive and bizarre in his position, punishing those who worked for him who supported his rival in the election and using his position to enrich himself.
But in June, he was indicted on federal charges that he stalked a candidate who stood up against him in his reelection. Authorities said Mr. Greenberg sent an anonymous letter to the school where the rival worked, falsely accusing him of having a sexual relationship with a student, and that Mr. Greenberg had set up social media accounts making similar claims. . Since then, Mr. Greenberg has been charged with corruption and other charges.
In August, Mr. Greenberg was charged with sex trafficking of a 17-year-old in 2017. Around the time of the indictment, the Justice Department began investigating Mr. Gaetz's ties to the same girl.
In the closing weeks of the Trump administration, Mr. Gaetz asked the White House for a pardon for all the criminal behavior he had ever committed, say people familiar with his request. Trump aides vetoed that idea, and Mr. Trump has said that Mr. Gaetz never directly asked for a pardon from him.