Former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg to change ‘not guilty’ plea

Gaetz, Matt with Greenberg
Monday could be a bad day for Matt Gaetz.

The intensely awaited plea bargain for federally indicted former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg is now set for Monday in U.S. District Court in Orlando.

Among those awaiting the plea are other reported targets of the federal investigation into human trafficking, bribery, and other federal crimes that arose from the Greenberg case, including Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, a longtime friend and political associate.

Greenberg is expected to change his plea from not guilty on at least one of the 33 federal felonies he has been charged with, possibly in exchange for testifying against other potential defendants. He had been working for weeks toward a deal with federal prosecutors who are investigating sex trafficking and public corruption allegations.

On Thursday, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division, filed a judge’s order that a change of plea hearing has now been set for Monday before U.S. District Judge Leslie Hoffman.

Chief among the crimes Greenberg has been charged with is sex trafficking of a minor. Media reports indicated that involved a girl whom Greenberg paid to have sex with others, including Gaetz, and that she was transported across state lines.

He also has been charged with stealing identifications, stalking online, and embezzling, among other complaints found in multi-count indictments that have been handed up by grand juries since last summer. Greenberg has pled not guilty to all the counts.

Sometime last fall, federal investigators began expanding their probe to look at other suspects. In late March, Gaetz’s name surfaced publicly. Last month, Greenberg agreed to consider a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Meanwhile, POLITICO reports prosecutors are inching closer to a deal with an ex-girlfriend of Gaetz who may cooperate. Federal investigators believe the former intern was on a plane trip to the Bahamas that could be central to any case against Greenberg, Gaetz and other targets.

The potential exists the girlfriend could corroborate Greenberg’s account of events. It’s likely other defendants would call Greenberg’s accusations into question, and a Gaetz ally already pointed out Greenberg faces as accusation of fabricating that a political opponent had sex with a minor.

One individual told POLITICO they were questioned for two hours about allegations of Gaetz or others in his circle having sex with a 17-year-old girl. Greenberg has been indicted for sex trafficking of a 17-year-old believed to be the same girl.

Last month, when asked directly if Greenberg was cooperating with prosecutors on the Gaetz case, Greenberg’s attorney Fritz Scheller cited attorney-client privilege. But he said Greenberg’s cooperation would likely be contingent on whether it was required by prosecutors to get a plea deal.

“If someone signs a cooperation agreement, they are required to cooperate,” Scheller told reporters outside the federal courthouse in Orlando.

And Scheller offered another zinger.

“I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” he said at the time.

The plea potentially escalates the legal and political jeopardy the Florida Congressman is facing and signals that Greenberg could potentially serve as a witness in the Justice Department’s investigation into Gaetz.

Investigators have also been looking at whether Gaetz and his associates tried to secure government jobs for some of the women, The Associated Press, citing unnamed people familiar with the  investigation, reported. They are also scrutinizing Gaetz’s connections to the medical marijuana sector, including whether his associates sought to influence legislation Gaetz sponsored.

The people had knowledge of the investigation but spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation.

Greenberg’s legal problems began last summer when he was arrested on charges of stalking a political opponent. He mailed fake letters to the school where his opponent taught, signed by a nonexistent “very concerned student” who alleged the teacher had engaged in sexual misconduct with another student, according to an indictment filed against Greenberg.

Greenberg was charged in August with sex trafficking a girl between the ages of 14 and 17 and using a state database to look up information about the girl and other people with whom he was engaged in “sugar daddy” relationships, according to the indictment.

Charges on allegations he embezzled $400,000 from the Seminole County tax collector’s office were added last month, according to the indictment.

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The Associated Press contributed to this post. Republished with permission.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected]



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