Matt Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg gets 11 years as probe into congressman stalls, sources say

Joel Greenberg agreed to cooperate with the probe into Rep. Gaetz, sources said.

December 1, 2022, 2:06 PM

Joel Greenberg, the former Florida tax collector who sources say agreed to cooperate in the federal probe into his one-time close associate, Rep. Matt Gaetz, was sentenced Thursday to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to crimes ranging from wire fraud to sex trafficking a minor.

Greenberg pleaded guilty last May to six of the 33 federal charges he was facing, including charges of stalking, identity theft, wire fraud, and conspiracy to bribe a public official, as well as one charge of sex trafficking.

The case grabbed national attention in the spring of 2021 after news broke that the investigation into Greenberg, a Seminole County tax collector, had, according to multiple sources, erupted into a sprawling federal probe that included whether Gaetz, his close friend, had had sex with a minor who he met through Greenberg.

Gaetz has long maintained his innocence and has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

In September of this year, The Washington Post reported that career prosecutors had recommended against charging the Florida congressman with sex trafficking. During a subsequent interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, Gaetz said he didn't know any more about the case than what's been in the media, adding that "I continue to proclaim my innocence."

Multiple sources familiar with the probe told ABC News that the investigation into Gaetz has stalled, with federal investigators having concerns regarding multiple key witnesses in the case, including Greenberg -- as well as specifics in the case that could make a conviction difficult for prosecutors.

Greenberg, who served as Seminole County tax collector for just over three years, was initially charged in 2020 with over 30 counts that included defrauding the Seminole County Tax Office out of hundreds of thousands of dollars through schemes ranging from buying sports memorabilia and cryptocurrency to paying women he met on a self-described "sugar daddy" website using the office credit card.

PHOTO: Former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg talks to the Orlando Sentinel during an interview at his office in Lake Mary, Fla., in Sept., 2019.
Former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg talks to the Orlando Sentinel during an interview at his office in Lake Mary, Fla., in Sept., 2019.
Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images, FILE

Greenberg reached a plea deal with investigators in May 2021 in which he agreed to provide "substantial assistance" to prosecutors as part of their ongoing investigation into Gaetz and others, according to sources familiar with the arrangement. The former tax collector provided investigators with years of Venmo and Cash App transactions and thousands of photos and videos, as well as access to personal social media accounts.

He was facing decades in prison before reaching the deal, which led to probes of two dozen individuals, including eight people being investigated for sex crimes, seven for public cooperation, and 10 for election fraud, according to Greenberg's attorney, Fritz Scheller. Four individuals have been indicted in part due to Greenberg's cooperation, and Scheller said two additional new indictments related to crimes stemming from fraudulent COVID-19 relief loans were expected in the coming months.

Judge Persnell, during sentencing Thursday, called Greenberg's degree of cooperation "more than I've seen in 22 years." But the court also came down hard on Greenberg by handing down a sentence on the highest end of the sentencing guidelines.

"In 22 years I've never experienced a case like this," the judge said regarding the breadth of Greenberg's crimes. "I have never seen a defendant who has committed so many different types of crimes in such a short period."

Greenberg, in a brief address to the court, apologized to the former minor at the center of the sex trafficking charge, and to school teacher Brian Beute, whom Greenberg had stalked after Beute announced he'd run against him for tax collector. Greenberg also apologized to his family and to the taxpayers of Seminole County.

"Nothing I say today will justify my actions," Greenberg said. "I know I deserve punishment."

Ahead of Thursday's sentencing, Greenberg's attorney issued a veiled criticism of the Justice Department's inaction against other individuals whom his client has implicated as part of his cooperation.

"If the Government is so concerned with general deterrence, then why hasn't it prosecuted the other individuals, including public figures, who were also involved in Greenberg's offenses?" Schiller wrote in a memo filed ahead of his client's sentencing. "Perhaps the DOJ are master strategists far beyond the capabilities of the undersigned. Or perhaps the DOJ is like Nero fiddling away as Rome burns."

At a pre-sentencing hearing on Wednesday, both the prosecution and Greenberg's defense attorneys recommended to U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell that Greenberg be sentenced to between 9.25 and 11 years in prison, per federal sentencing guidelines. But Presnell signaled Wednesday that he was considering a harsher sentence for Greenberg, citing concerns about stacking the multiple, wide-ranging charges together.

"We don't have related crimes," Presnell said, noting that "there is no precedent" for the range of crimes Greenberg pled guilty to committing.

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