April 30, 2021

You'd think the ethics of paying an underage girl for sex are cut-and-dry, but as Joel Greenberg tells it, he and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) are actually victims in the alleged situation.

The Daily Beast dropped a bombshell report in the case against Gaetz on Thursday, revealing a letter reportedly written to Trump ally Roger Stone in which Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector, apparently confesses that he and Gaetz had sex with an underage girl.

But according to Greenberg, the situation is largely the fault of the then 17-year-old — not of the two adult men allegedly paying her for sex. Greenberg reportedly wrote in the letter that they both thought the girl was 19, and upon finding out she was underage, Greenberg "confronted" the girl to stress "how serious of a situation this was, how many people she put in danger." The girl then "apologized and recognized that by lying about her age, she endangered many people."

As The Guardian's Moira Donegan pointed out, Greenberg reportedly "coerced a teenager into sleeping with them" and then "guilted" her over the situation.

Greenberg also emphasized that he and Gaetz "immediately" ended contact with the girl after finding out her real age — but that apparently didn't stop him from reportedly hitting her up again once she turned 18. Marianne Dodson

April 30, 2021

Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) are going on tour in May to "attack Democrats and Republicans they deem insufficiently loyal to former President Donald Trump," Politico reports. "The idea is to send a message from the two controversial Republicans: They're not canceled, they're not going to be quiet, and the infamy their critics attribute to them is translatable as fame and power in the conservative movement."

Meanwhile, the hits keep coming in the FBI's investigation into Gaetz's alleged violations of federal sex trafficking laws. The progenitor of the investigation, former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, confessed in writing that both he and Gaetz paid for sex with women and had sex with a 17-year-old girl, The Daily Beast reported Thursday night, citing multiple versions of a confession note and screenshots of encrypted text messages with Trump ally Roger Stone.

Greenberg, arrested in August and subsequently charged with 33 counts of criminal violations, contacted Stone in December to see if he could obtain a pardon from Trump, The Daily Beast reports. Stone finally informed Greenberg that the effort had failed, in part because Gaetz "told me not to help you which I tried to do anyway."

"On more than one occasion," the 17-year-old girl at the center of the case "was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida's 1st Congressional District, and myself," Greenberg reportedly acknowledged in a letter Stone requested as part of the pardon effort. "From time to time, gas money or gifts, rent, or partial tuition payments were made to several of these girls, including the individual who was not yet 18," on behalf of Gaetz.

Greenberg wrote that he and Gaetz believed the girl was 19 when they first had sex with her, and when they found out she was underage, "there was no further contact with this individual until after her 18th birthday."

Greenberg texted Stone on Dec. 21 that the feds were pressuring him to flip on Gaetz, he had fired his lawyers for backing the idea, and those lawyers know Gaetz "paid me to pay the girls and that he and I both had sex with the girl who was underage," The Daily Beast reports. Gaetz asserted through a PR firm that he "has never paid for sex nor has he had sex with a 17 year old as an adult." Read more at The Daily Beast. Peter Weber

April 16, 2021

Joel Greenberg, 36, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), 38, became friends soon after Greenberg was elected Seminole County tax collector and Gaetz won a seat in Congress in 2016. Both men were "brash politicians who hailed from families of considerable wealth and who themselves rose to power quickly," and "they also enjoyed parties and the company of women," The Washington Post reports, citing people who know both Gaetz and Greenberg. That latter interest — woman and parties — is also why both men are under federal investigation.

Before the feds got involved in late 2019 or early 2020, Greenberg had already been on the radar of local law enforcement — for, among other things, allegedly misusing public funds, handing lucrative and unnecessary contracts and state jobs to friends and allies, and impersonating a police officer, pulling over a woman for speeding using a badge and lights on his private vehicle.

But local police did not start investigating Greenberg until, according the a federal indictment, he tried to derail a GOP primary challenger, prep school music teacher Brian Beute, by sending his school a fraudulent note claiming Beute had carried on an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student. Beute roped in a lawyer acquaintance, David Bear, who convinced the sheriff's office that whoever was behind the smear campaign had committed a crime. Bear also successfully encouraged the sheriff's office to seek help from the feds, the Post reports.

"When authorities arrested Greenberg and sifted through his electronic records and devices — according to documents and people involved in the case — they discovered a medley of other alleged wrongdoing, leading them to open an investigation of possible sex trafficking involving a far more high-profile Florida Republican," Gaetz, the Post reports. Beute thought about dropping the matter after local investigators cleared him of having sex with a student, but "he decided not to," Bear told the Post. "All of these other things mushroomed out of that one decision for him to stand tall."

Greenberg, facing 33 counts including sex trafficking of a child, is reportedly cooperating with prosecutors to earn some leniency. Gaetz denies the alleged focus of his investigation — paying for sex and having sex with a minor across state lines — and has not been charged or formally accused of wrongdoing. Read more about how the case came together at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

April 15, 2021

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters on Thursday he has spoken with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) about the "accusations" against him involving sex trafficking of a minor, and Gaetz has professed his innocence.

The Department of Justice is investigating whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel out of state with him. McCarthy said that during their private meeting, he "explained to Mr. Gaetz the rules inside our conference. If there was something to come forward, we would take action." Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the No. 2 House Republican leader, made a similar statement Wednesday, saying if "something really formal" happens with the Justice Department investigation, GOP leadership will "of course react and take action."

Gaetz sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the Justice Department. A reporter asked if Gaetz would keep his seat amid the investigation, and McCarthy responded that the congressman is "the same as any American. He's innocent until proven guilty. There's no charges against him yet. If a charge comes forward, that will be dealt with at that time."

McCarthy was also questioned about a CNN report that said in 2017, staffers from the office of former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) spoke to Gaetz about his conduct and how he needed to act professionally while in the Capitol. McCarthy was House majority leader at the time, and said he wasn't part of this discussion or aware it took place. "If you're wondering if I knew anything about what's being alleged now, no," he added. Catherine Garcia

April 15, 2021

Joel Greenberg, the former tax collector for Florida's Seminole County and accused sex trafficker who is reportedly cooperating with a federal investigation of his friend Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), made at least 150 Venmo payments to young women, including a 17-year-old, The Daily Beast reports, citing several documents detailing years of online financial transactions. Greenberg is the linchpin of an alleged sex ring, and "according to three people with knowledge of the relationship, Gaetz was among the men who tapped Greenberg to access a large network of young women."

The Venmo payments, in installments of $300 to $1,000 or more, were typically labeled as being for "food" or "school," though Greenberg also wrote "ice cream," "salad," "stuff," and "ass" in some transactions, or just use emojis like the lipstick kiss, The Daily Beast reports. The documents show only one new Venmo payment from Gaetz to Greenberg, "for $300 on November 1, 2018, with the love hotel emoji in the memo field."

But the documents also show Greenberg in 2017 making at least 16 Venmo payments totaling nearly $5,000 to a woman who would go on to date Gaetz (not his current fiancée), plus another $1,500 via Cash App over two days in April 2017, The Daily Beast reports. "That woman — who came to Washington, D.C., as an intern in January 2018 — has said she dated Gaetz during and after her senior year in college. Federal investigators seized Gaetz's phone in December 2020, and they took his ex-girlfriend's device shortly after."

Gaetz has denied paying for sex or having sex with a 17-year-old, and the one payment he Venmo'd to Greenberg tied to the the underage girl was after she turned 18, The Daily Beast reports. That woman has recently changed all her identifying information on Venmo and apparently defriended Gaetz and two other women Greenberg paid, The Daily Beast says, and Gaetz has lost at least seven Venmo friends in the past week, since the news organization started reporting on the payments. Peter Weber

April 14, 2021

If Joel Greenberg, the former tax collector for Florida's Seminole County, has been helping federal investigators determine whether Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) had sex with a 17-year-old girl and paid for sex with cash and gifts — as reported Tuesday night by The New York Times and The Washington Post — that's probably bad news for Gaetz. But the feds have also been trying to get testimony from the former 17-year-old, who appears to tie together several of the Gaetz threads, Politico reports.

The woman, who Politico isn't identifying because she may be the victim of a sex crime, not only had a sexual relationship with Greenberg and possibly Gaetz between May and November 2017, according to federal authorities. She also went on a September 2018 trip to the Bahamas with Gaetz, hand surgeon and Gaetz donor Jason Pirozzolo, GOP state legislator Halsey Beshears, and four other young women, Politico reports. Greenberg was not invited on that trip, three people told Politico, "because of a conflict with Pirozzolo's girlfriend."

The unidentified woman had turned 18 a few months before the Bahamas trip, and nobody in their party engaged in prostitution, one of the other women told Politico. But, she and others sources added, three of the women on Beshears' private jets looked so young, U.S. Customs briefly stopped and questioned them when they landed in Florida. Gaetz, who flew commercial to the Bahamas, has denied having sex with a 17-year-old or paying for sex.

The woman could testify if that's true — her age at the time is a crucial detail in the federal investigation — along with giving the feds other information on the Bahamas trip. Three Gaetz friends told Politico the congressman has said he waited until the woman was 18 to have sex with her. If Gaetz and his friends traded drugs or cash for sex, that could be a crime in itself, regardless of whether the sex was with underage girls, Politico says.

Federal investigators executed a search warrant this winter and seized Gaetz's phone and the phone of a former girlfriend, Politico reports. Beshears abruptly resigned as Florida's top business regulator in January, Pirozzolo has told clients his office is closed "due to a family emergency," and before reportedly flipping on Gaetz, Greenberg in July 2020 tried to get him to ask then-President Donald Trump for a pardon, Politico reports. Peter Weber

April 9, 2021

The federal investigation of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), said to center on possible sex-trafficking violations and sex with a 17-year-old girl, has branched out to include a trip to the Bahamas with well-connected GOP allies and allegedly paid female companions plus whether Gaetz was involved in running a third-party "ghost" candidate in a state Senate race to help an associate, The New York Times reports.

Gaetz has denied paying for sex or having sex with a 17-year-old girl, but his alleged partner in procuring women for sex, Joel Greenberg, is now expected to plead guilty and potentially flip on Gaetz, Greenberg's lawyer and federal prosecutors suggested Thursday. One congressional Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Wash.), has called on Gaetz to resign, and Gaetz's legislative director, Devin Murphy, abruptly quit last week, the Times reports.

Investigators are in the early states of their inquiry into whether Gaetz worked with prominent Florida lobbyist Chris Dorworth to put a sham third-party candidate in a state Senate race to help a Gaetz associate, Jason Brodeur, beat a Democratic rival for an open seat, the Times reports. Recruiting a "ghost" candidate to swing a race against an opponent is generally legal, but secretly paying them to do so is frowned upon, legally speaking. In Brodeur's case, a third candidate did run but barely campaigned, and fliers depicted her as a Democrat, like Brodeur's opponent.

Brodeur ultimately raised more than $3 million for the race and won by 7,600 votes; the third-party candidate, Jestine Iannotti, got 6,000 votes. Brodeur told the Times through a spokeswoman he had nothing to do with the Iannotti fliers and Dorworth said he never met, communicated with, or paid Iannotti, and doesn't recall discussing running a third-party candidate with Gaetz.

"A ghost candidate scheme would be brazen even in Florida, which has been fertile ground for unseemly political ploys," the Times reports, though two little-known third-party candidates in Miami races last election did help Republicans win and keep control of the state Senate. "In one of the Miami races, which was decided by 32 votes, an accused ghost candidate and a campaign backer have been indicted on campaign finance charges." Peter Weber

April 8, 2021

Rep. Matt Gaetz's (R-Fla.) possible legal issues may have just gone from bad to worse.

Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax commissioner and key figure in the probe examining whether Gaetz violated sex trafficking laws, is likely to strike a plea deal with federal prosecutors, CNN and Politico report. Such a deal could see him providing prosecutors with "key details" in their investigation, CNN notes.

"We believe this case will be a plea," assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg reportedly said.

Prosecutors are examining whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and broke sex trafficking laws. The Florida congressman in an op-ed earlier this week denied that he has "ever paid for sex," also saying he has "not slept with a 17-year-old" as "an adult man."

Greenberg, who has been hit with numerous charges, allegedly "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 along with Mr. Greenberg had sex with them," The New York Times reports.

With Greenberg possibly set to plead guilty, Gaetz's "legal peril" seemed to "increase sharply," Politico wrote. Asked on Thursday whether Gaetz should be concerned, Greenberg's attorney said, "I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today." Brendan Morrow

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