If Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz was already “not feeling very comfortable,” that feeling of discomfort can only have increased exponentially Thursday with confirmation that Joel Greenberg’s plea has officially been accepted by a judge.
Greenberg, the former Seminole County tax collector, reportedly first connected with Gaetz in 2017, the year he took office, through a network of Florida Trump supporters. According to the Washington Post, Gaetz bragged about the women he met through Greenberg and went so far as to show them “videos on his phone of naked or topless women on multiple occasions, including at parties with Joel Greenberg.” During a radio appearance in June of that year, Gaetz floated Greenberg as a potential candidate for Congress.
Greenberg was ultimately charged with a total 33 counts of criminal activity in March, including the sex trafficking of a minor — a crime that could implicate Gaetz. Rep. Gaetz denies any wrongdoing.
On Thursday, U.S. district court Judge Gregory A. Presnell wrote in a curt order that Greenberg’s plea “is now accepted and the defendant is adjudged guilty of such offenses.” A sentencing hearing will be held at a later date. Greenberg pleaded guilty to just six of a total 33 criminal counts with which federal prosecutors originally charged him.
The House Ethics committee opened an investigation into Gaetz’s conduct back in April. As of now, Gaetz has not been charged with anything and remains a sitting member of Congress, where he continues his important work opposing vaccine passports, sowing doubts about the 2020 election results, renaming post offices and judging art contests.
Here’s what Greenberg pled guilty to:
Count one: Sex Trafficking of a Child
- 1 Count one: Sex Trafficking of a Child
- 2 Count eight: Production of Identification and False Identification Documents
- 3 Count nine: Aggravated Identity Theft
- 4 Count 14: Wire Fraud
- 5 Count 24: Stalking
- 6 Count 26: Conspiracy to Bribe a Public Official, Submission of a False Claim, Theft of Government Property, and Wire Fraud
The first count Greenberg pled guilty to is the most serious, both for him and, potentially, for Gaetz — if prosecutors can establish Gaetz’s involvement in the crime. Greenberg pled guilty to recruiting a girl under the age of 18 to engage in a commercial sex act. According to the indictment, the sex trafficking took place sometime between May 2017 and November 2017.
The timing is worth noting, though, since it is more than a year before the suspicious Venmo transactions between Gaetz and Greenberg. Those transactions, from May 2018, were first reported by the Daily Beast: “The memo field for the first of Gaetz’s transactions to Greenberg was titled ‘Test.’ In the second, the Florida GOP congressman wrote ‘hit up ___ .’ But instead of a blank, Gaetz wrote a nickname for one of the recipients, [a 17-year-old girl] … When Greenberg then made his Venmo payments to these three young women, he described the money as being for ‘Tuition,’ ‘School,’ and ‘School’.”
Count eight: Production of Identification and False Identification Documents
Greenberg pleaded guilty to taking drivers’ licenses surrendered to the Seminole County Tax Collector’s office, where they were destined to be shredded, and using them — along with his access to the Florida Driver and Vehicle Information Database — to create fake ids for minors with whom he was engaged in what the indictment terms “sugar daddy relationships.”
Count eight refers specifically to the production of a Puerto Rico driver’s license, falsified sometime between September 21, 2018 and June 23, 2020 — the day Greenberg was arrested.
Count nine: Aggravated Identity Theft
Greenberg pleaded guilty to stealing the identity of one of the individuals whose license was surrendered to his office; specifically he admitted to commandeering the name, date of birth, and driver’s license number of a Florida resident identified in the indictment by their initials, R.Z.
Count 14: Wire Fraud
Among the innovations Greenberg brought to the Seminole County Tax Collector’s office was the ability to pay tax bills with cryptocurrencies, like BitCoin. (According to a later audit of his office, Greenberg also instituted a cryptocurrency mining operation that overloaded the office’s circuit breakers, causing a power surge that ignited a fire, ultimately worth $98,000 in damage — “not covered by insurance due the negligence of the Tax Collector,” auditors wrote.)
According to prosecutors, Greenberg devised a scheme to buy cryptocurrency for himself using funds from the Tax Collector’s office. As part of the hustle, he created a bank account in the agency’s name (that only he had access to), and he funneled agency money into it. Prosecutors accused Greenberg of 10 instances of wire fraud, but he only copped to one: the largest of the transactions, totaling $200,000.
Count 24: Stalking
The crime that started it all! None of the events Joel Greenberg pleaded guilty to would have come to light if he had not rashly decided back in October 2019 to try to destroy the life of a music teacher who’d decided to run against him for the office of tax collector. Greenberg has now admitted to sending letters to the private school where the music teacher, Brian Beute, worked, pretending to be a student at Trinity Preparatory School and falsely accusing Beute of having an improper relationship with a student.
Greenberg followed the letter up by creating a Facebook account and purported to be a teacher parroting the same lie, then creating a fake Twitter account with Beute’s name and photograph, where Greenberg posted inflammatory messages like, “I’m running for office to keep #seminolecounty white and segregated. It’s time we take back our country!”
Beute was quickly cleared of any wrongdoing, but the local Sheriff’s Department’s investigation into the matter ultimately touched off the federal investigation that took Greenberg down.
Count 26: Conspiracy to Bribe a Public Official, Submission of a False Claim, Theft of Government Property, and Wire Fraud
The last count Greenberg pleaded guilty to is complicated, but it has to do with Greenberg’s attempt to bribe a Small Business Administration employee for help submitting a falsified application for Covid relief funds on behalf of two defunct businesses. He ultimately collected some $430,000 in misbegotten funds through the scheme.