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How Joel Greenberg’s Plea Deal Spells Trouble for Matt Gaetz

·7-min read
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos by Getty/AP
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos by Getty/AP

As Rep. Matt Gaetz’s one-time “wingman” Joel Greenberg pleaded guilty to six federal charges on Monday, a plane flew above the nearby federal courthouse in Orlando with this banner attached to the tail: “Tick Tock Matt Gaetz.”

Gaetz, who is reportedly under investigation for the same allegation at the center of Greenberg’s charges—sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl—wasn’t mentioned by name in the 86-page plea agreement for Greenberg. But even without Gaetz’s name, the court documents spell potential doom for the Florida congressman. A number of problematic details in Greenberg’s plea agreement could point to Gaetz—particularly if you know where to look.

Chief among the issues for Gaetz is the prospect that the once 17-year-old girl in question may be cooperating with investigators.

According to the plea filing, after Greenberg learned that investigators were probing his “commercial sex acts” with the minor, he reached out to the girl to coordinate a lie about why he had looked her up in the Florida DMV database.

“Greenberg contacted the Minor, directly and through one of the Minor’s friends, for the purpose of asking the minor to lie and say that the reason why Greenberg looked the Minor up in the [DMV] system was because the Minor had asked him to do that, which, as Greenberg knew, was not true,” the court document says. “Greenberg also asked the Minor for help in making sure that their stories would line up, because he knew that his commercial sex acts with her were illegal.”

Not only does this indicate that the former teen is cooperating with investigators, it also suggests that one of her friends—potentially another girl who helped introduce the then-minor to Greenberg and his friends—could be cooperating as well.

The plea agreement also notes that the first time Greenberg met up with the then-minor—on his boat in Spring 2017—the two did not have sex. It doesn’t seem likely that prosecutors would take Greenberg at his word alone on that claim, further raising the prospect that this woman is working with investigators.

If that’s true, and Greenberg’s claims are accurate, then Gaetz could be ruined.

The most direct and damning of Greenberg’s allegations against his former friend came in a confession letter obtained by The Daily Beast, in which Greenberg claims he and Gaetz both paid to have sex with this teen while she was underage. Greenberg adds that he saw the acts occur “first hand” and that he paid women on behalf of Gaetz.

A number of key claims in that letter seemed to align with details in the plea agreement. For one, in the letter that Greenberg wrote, citing an “anonymous tip,” the former tax collector specifies the date he learned the teen was underage: Sept. 4, 2017.

“Immediately I called the congressman and warned him to stay clear of this person and informed him she was underage,” Greenberg wrote. “He was equally shocked and disturbed by this revelation.”

In the plea agreement, that date appears to be confirmed.

“On or about September 4, 2017 at 1:29 p.m., Greenberg ran a search for the Minor, because he had reason to believe that the Minor was under the age of 18,” the court document says.

Greenberg’s timeline in the confession letter—which is currently in the hands of federal investigators—seems to be confirmed by internal computer records logging his search of the minor. If Gaetz’s legal strategy tracks with his PR strategy of discrediting Greenberg, it’ll be much tougher to dismiss what Greenberg says when it’s backed up by data points like the exact time and date Greenberg learned the girl was underrage, his phone logs, and a confession letter that claims Greenberg learned of the teen’s age and then immediately called Gaetz.

If Greenberg truly did learn of the girl’s age on that date, and then immediately called Gaetz, that conversation should show up in Greenberg’s call logs—and would be very hard for Gaetz’s legal team to explain away.

One thing that’s also very clear from the plea agreement is that investigators have Greenberg’s call logs. They note exact dates on which Greenberg called or texted the then-17-year-old—a total of at least 20 times between April 24 and July 30, 2017, frequently to arrange commercial sex acts.

Gaetz’s own phone was reportedly seized last December, as was the phone belonging to his ex-girlfriend, another alleged participant in Greenberg’s ring who is considering striking a immunity deal of her own, according to Politico.

While the plea agreement doesn’t name the congressman—or anyone else—it does say a number of people paid for sex with the then-17-year-old. If that’s accurate, others in the alleged sex ring may have their own stories to share.

Judging by the plea agreement, Greenberg is not the investigation’s ultimate target. The very nature of the plea bargain indicates that federal investigators have set their sights elsewhere, and Greenberg and other people involved may be valuable witnesses.

Although Greenberg pleaded guilty to six charges with a mandatory minimum sentence of 12 years, he was facing a 33-count indictment and potentially decades in jail. Greenberg, of course, isn’t an entirely trustworthy source, which Gaetz has been quick to point out in his defense.

But given that Greenberg still reached a favorable deal—convincing prosecutors to toss 27 of 33 charges in exchange for his cooperation—it’s likely investigators have been able to independently corroborate valuable information.

The plea agreement also notes that “others” and “other men” also had sex with the 17-year-old girl. All of those people could be facing charges, but they also could be potential witnesses against Gaetz, meaning as problematic of a witness as Greenberg may be, he may not be the only witness.

Greenberg said in his confession letter that he wasn’t alone in having sex with the 17-year-old.

“On more than one occasion this underage individual was involved in sexual activity with several of the other females at the house, myself and also the congressman from Florida’s panhandle,” Greenberg wrote.

The disgraced tax official also wrote in his confession that the victim’s age “alarmed” him in part because many of his friends were legally exposed.

“I was aware that this could cause problems for a lot of people,” he said.

According to the plea filing, Greenberg also frequently “attempted to disguise” payments to women “as ‘schoolrelated’ expenses or other living expenses.” The court document lists three examples of euphemistic memo items—“school,” “ice cream,” and “food”—further specifying the latter as one of Greenberg’s payments to the minor. That payment’s memo item, date, and amount match The Daily Beast’s previous report of the transaction.

But the plea agreement contradicts the confession on one key point: Greenberg is no longer denying he broke the law. In the confession letter, the former county official wrote that “there was absolutely no way a reasonable person could know this individual was not yet 18,” adding that Gaetz had been “equally shocked and disturbed” to learn the girl’s true age.

In his plea, however, Greenberg admits he had “reasonable opportunity to observe” that she was underage when he had sex with her at least seven times. The plea cites months of personal interaction between Greenberg and the girl—texts, phone calls, physical encounters, and Greenberg watching her have sex with others.

At a press conference after the plea hearing on Monday, Greenberg’s defense lawyer, Fritz Scheller, was asked what value Greenberg could deliver for prosecutors. In response, Scheller directed reporters back to the plea agreement.

“I encourage you all to just read the plea agreement,” Scheller said. “If you read the plea agreement, that will show you what the path is.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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