Two top Washington prosecutors have joined the child sex trafficking investigation of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a combative ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump who has been beefing up his legal defense team while awaiting charges.
As reported Thursday by the New York Times, two sources briefed on the matter confirmed the U.S. Justice Department placed Todd Gee, a deputy chief of the department’s Public Integrity Section, on the case. Gee’s section oversees public corruption cases at the federal, state and local levels.
A public corruption investigator with expertise in child exploitation also joined the probe.
Both prosecutors have been working on the investigation for at least three months alongside federal authorities in Florida who have been looking into accusations of sex trafficking, fraud and corruption by several people connected to Gaetz, including Gaetz himself.
Central to the investigation is whether Gaetz violated federal child sex trafficking laws by paying or providing goods to a 17-year-old girl for sex.
There’s been talk for most of 2021 of an indictment for the Fort Walton Beach Republican, who has called the investigation a “partisan smear.”
The accusations stem from a criminal investigation into Joel Greenberg, a former Seminole County Tax Collector who in May pleaded guilty to the sex trafficking of a child and five counts involving fraud, including identity theft, stalking, wire fraud and conspiracy to bribe a public official.
Greenberg, a one-time “wingman” to Gaetz, was set to be sentenced Nov. 18, but a federal judge agreed Monday to delay the sentencing until next year so Greenberg could continue cooperating with federal authorities.
The investigation revealed the use of “sugar daddy” apps, which enable older, generally well-to-do men to date and receive sexual favors from younger women in exchange for money or gifts. Venmo Records The Daily Beast published in April showed transfers of money in 2018 from Gaetz to Greenberg, who then sent money in the same amount to women. The payments sometimes included labels like “school” or “tuition.”
Greenberg faces up to 12 years in prison for the crimes. His plea agreement with prosecutors requires that he continue to assist in the ongoing probe.
It remains to be seen whether prosecutors charge Gaetz or, if they do, if the charges will match the crimes to which Greenberg pleaded guilty. Sex trafficking of a minor carries a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison.
Were the Justice Department to charge Gaetz, it would be something of a policy departure for President Joe Biden’s administration. Under Biden, the department has mostly avoided pursuing cases against Trump and his allies, deferring instead to Congress and inspectors general.
The Justice Department in August indicted Florida real estate developer Stephen Alford for allegedly trying to extort the Gaetz family of $25 million. Alford had promised he could get Gaetz a pardon from Bidden to end the sex trafficking investigation.
While no charges have yet come against him, Gaetz, who eloped in August to marry his then-girlfriend Ginger Luckey, has been preparing for a potential legal showdown by hiring a team of high-powered attorneys, according to Daily Beast reporter Roger Sollenberger.
They include Marc Mukasey, whom the Trump Organization hired to defend it in several high-profile battles.
Gaetz also hired Isabelle Kirshner, a criminal defense lawyer who represented Robert Haddon, a former Columbia University gynecologist who was accused by 200 patients of sexual assault. (Haddon pleaded guilty in 2016 to criminal sexual acts and forcibly touching two patients but served no prison time.)
Criminal defense lawyer Marc Fernich, whose past clients include Jeffrey Epstein, Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán (“El Chapo”) and sex cult leader Keith Raniere, is also on Gaetz’s team.
Provided charges are brought, they’ll face Gee and others. Gee served as a lead prosecutor in the successful conviction last year of a former Navy commander at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who covered up a fight with a commissary worker later found dead in the bay.
Gee was also chief counsel to Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee during former President George W. Bush’s presidency.