Indicted Gaetz Associate Is Said to Be Cooperating With Justice Dept.
A former local official in Florida indicted in the Justice Department investigation that is also focused on Representative Matt Gaetz has been providing investigators with information since last year about an array of topics, including Mr. Gaetz’s activities, according to two people briefed on the matter.
Joel Greenberg, a onetime county tax collector, disclosed to investigators that he and Mr. Gaetz had encounters with women who were given cash or gifts in exchange for sex, the people said. The Justice Department is investigating the involvement of the men with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments and whether the men had sex with a 17-year-old in violation of sex trafficking statutes, people familiar with the inquiry have said.
Mr. Greenberg, who is said to have met the women through websites that connect people who go on dates in exchange for gifts, fine dining, travel and allowances and introduced them to Mr. Gaetz, could provide investigators with firsthand accounts of their activities.
Mr. Greenberg began speaking with investigators once he realized that the government had overwhelming evidence against him and that his only path to leniency lay in cooperation, the people said. He has met several times with investigators to try to establish his trustworthiness, though the range of criminal charges against him — including fraud — could undermine his credibility as a witness.
Mr. Greenberg faces dozens of other counts including sex trafficking of a minor, stalking a political rival and corruption. He was first indicted in June. The Justice Department inquiry drew national attention in recent weeks when investigators’ focus on Mr. Gaetz, a high-profile supporter of President Donald J. Trump who knew Mr. Greenberg through Republican political circles in Florida, came to light.
Speculation about Mr. Greenberg’s cooperation began mounting last week, after his lawyer and a federal prosecutor both said in court that he was likely to plead guilty in the coming weeks. “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Fritz Scheller, Mr. Greenberg’s lawyer, told reporters afterward.
The United States attorney’s office for the Middle District of Florida is leading the investigation, which is examining not only whether Mr. Greenberg, Mr. Gaetz and others broke sex trafficking laws but also whether Mr. Gaetz paid for women over the age of 18 to travel with him to places like the Bahamas.
A Justice Department spokesman and a lawyer for Mr. Greenberg declined to comment.
A spokesman for Mr. Gaetz said he had done nothing wrong. “Congressman Gaetz has never paid for sex,” said the spokesman, Geoffrey R. Johnson, who suggested that Mr. Greenberg was “trying to ensnare innocent people in his troubles.”
Prosecutors often seek out cooperators in complex investigations where an insider’s account can help make their cases. Typically, the authorities meet with potential cooperators many times before formally agreeing to a plea deal to determine what information they have and whether they could serve as a witness against others.
Cooperators are expected to be fully forthcoming about their own and others’ criminality. If prosecutors conclude that they have lied, cooperating witnesses are likely to receive no deal and could even increase their own culpability. Those who cooperate earlier in investigations typically receive the best deals from the government because their help is seen as more critical to developing leverage against other defendants.
Mr. Greenberg faces a mandatory minimum of at least 12 years in prison: 10 years on the sex trafficking count and two on a charge of identity theft.
He is the only person who has been publicly charged in the investigation. F.B.I. agents are said to have questioned several women who had encounters with the men.
Prosecutors have portrayed Mr. Greenberg in court papers as undertaking a variety of criminal schemes, including some after he was initially charged in June. A judge sent him to jail in March for violating the terms of his bail. Those issues could undermine his credibility as a witness.
The Matt Gaetz Investigation
The Justice Department is investigating whether Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, broke federal sex trafficking laws.
- Mr. Gaetz, 38, was elected to Congress in 2016 and became one of President Donald J. Trump’s most outspoken advocates. The inquiry focuses on the representative’s relationships with women recruited online for sex and whether he had sex with a 17-year-old girl.
- The investigation includes an examination of payments to women. Investigators believe that 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 offenses — people close to the investigation told The New York Times. Mr. Greenberg is expected to plead guilty to federal charges, an indication that he could cooperate as a witness against Mr. Gaetz.
- The representative has repeatedly dismissed the investigation as politically motivated and unfounded, 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.
- Mr. Gaetz has claimed that his family is being targeted by two men trying to extort it for $25 million in exchange for making potential legal problems “go away.” The men have denied that they were trying to extort the Gaetzes.
- In the final weeks of the Trump administration, Mr. Gaetz asked the White House for a blanket pardon for any criminal conduct he had ever committed, people familiar with his request have said. Trump aides vetoed that idea, and Mr. Trump has said Mr. Gaetz never asked him directly for a pardon.
- Mr. Gaetz told The Times that he had no plans to resign from Congress. But as the investigation continues, he could face pressure either to step down or temporarily relinquish his spot on the House committee that oversees the Justice Department.
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