In a plea deal rife with widespread political ramifications, former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg pleaded guilty Monday in federal court in Orlando to sex trafficking of a child and five counts involving fraud.
Greenberg’s pleas were reported Monday morning by The Associated Press.
ABC News reporter Will Streakin also tweeted the news.
“Greenberg did not make a statement beyond pleading guilty and answers ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions,” Streakin tweeted. “Greenberg was shackled and handcuffed to a chain around his waist wearing a dark blue jumpsuit,” he wrote.
With Greenberg now locked up as a federal felon, federal investigators are counting on his help and testimony to land others. For months, reports of the case have spotlighted Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and others in the Greenberg-Gaetz circle of Republican political associates and wild-party friends, involving trips rife with drugs, prostitutes, and money laundering.
The federal court papers so far do not name Gaetz or anyone else as potential targets of the investigation. However, Gaetz has acknowledged he is aware he is under federal criminal investigation and has been since at least last fall. He has denied any wrongdoing and contends he’s the target of a conspiracy.
Much of the government’s case came together after it served warrants on Greenberg on initial federal indictments involving stalking, and gained access to his computers, phones, and servers.
As agreed to through months of negotiations with federal authorities, Greenberg on Monday pleaded guilty to to sex trafficking of a child, which has a mandatory 10-year prison sentence and would brand him as a federal sex offender for the rest of his life.
He also pleaded guilty to production of a false identification document, aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, stalking, and conspiracy. Of those, the wire fraud charge could land him 20 years in prison, and the production of false identification and conspiracy charges, each carry 15 year sentences.
Sentencing will be delayed to see how well Greenberg cooperates in the investigations of others. His plea deal requires that he cooperate with the investigations and testify on the government’s behalf.
In exchange, federal prosecutors agreed to drop 27 other federal felony charges in indictments against Greenberg since he was arrested last summer. Dismissal of those charges also is contingent on Greenberg’s cooperation.
Monday’s pleas came before U.S. District Magistrate Judge Leslie Hoffman in the U.S. District Court’s Middle District of Florida Orlando Division.
Greenberg initially was arrested June 23 on charges involving cyberstalking and stolen identifications, in which he allegedly used his resources at the Seminole County Tax Collector’s Office and social media to create fake personas and harass a political opponent.
After investigators got their hands on his computers, the case broadened to include a variety of additional charges, including the sex trafficking charge, and questioning leading to other other figures. The emerging picture suggested Greenberg procured drugs and prostitutes for political friends, sometimes for out-of-state or even out-of-country trips, using a Venmo account, and three other accounts, including an official Tax Collector American Express card.
At the same time, based on his guilty pleas, Greenberg was moving official Tax Collector money into personal accounts, converting it to cryptocurrencies, and conspiring to defraud the Small Business Administration with fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loans. Part of his plea deal requires him to turn over more than $650,000 in ill-acquired assets.
The plea deal indicates others were involved in the SBA fraud, including a local public official and a friend. They were not named. Federal investigators also are looking into connections with Florida’s medical marijuana industry.
In addition to Gaetz, perhaps Florida’s most prominent backer of former President Donald Trump, former state Rep. Chris Dorworth, Republican donor and medical marijuana entrepreneur Jason Pirozzolo and former Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears are also implicated.
Federal officials also have been talking with the young woman who was 17 when Greenberg paid her for sex and trafficked her to others, reportedly including Gaetz. They also reportedly have been talking with an ex-girlfriend of Gaetz.