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Associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) working towards plea deal with federal prosecutors

Matt Gaetz - United States House of Representatives
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.,during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

An associate of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) is working toward a plea deal with federal prosecutors investigating a sex trafficking operation which could escalate the legal and political jeopardy facing the Florida congressman.

Joel Greenberg, a former county tax collector and a key figure in the federal investigation involving Rep. Gaetz, is presumed to reach a plea deal with prosecutors by next month. Greenberg faces a total of 33 federal charges as of this week, including stalking a political opponent, sex trafficking of a minor, and conspiracy to bribe a public official. The investigation of Rep. Gaetz arose as part of the federal case against Greenberg, his longtime associate and political ally. The New York Times reported that federal investigators were examining whether Rep. Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws. The investigation is said to focus in part on whether Gaetz carried on a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him.

Additionally, federal prosecutors are examining whether Gaetz and Greenberg paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity. However, Rep. Gaetz has denied the allegations and insists he will not resign his seat in Congress. When asked directly if Greenberg was cooperating with prosecutors in the Gaetz case, Greenberg’s attorney, Fritz Scheller, cited attorney-client privilege. He said Greenberg’s cooperation would likely be contingent on whether it was required by prosecutors to get a plea deal. Lawyers for both sides were told to reach an agreement by May 15 or the trial would proceed.

However, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Greenberg’s attorneys and federal prosecutors confirmed negotiations were initiated during a court appearance. Assistant U.S. Attorney, Roger B. Handberg, said the prosecution expects a plea deal to be reached. The agreement could have implications for the investigation into Rep. Gaetz who has not been charged with a crime and has renounced wrongdoing. According to the Sentinel, Scheller expressed, “I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” after the hearing.

Scheller did not state whether Greenberg would cooperate with the investigation into Rep. Gaetz’s alleged actions. Scheller explained to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Orlando that “If someone signs a cooperation agreement, they are required to cooperate.” Furthermore, Scheller declined to answer when asked if Greenberg had any incriminating evidence against Gaetz. “I think if Mr. Greenberg accepts a plea agreement, he will want to show his sense of remorse, which he does have, and his sense of acceptance of responsibility.”

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ARTICLE: GABRIELLA ANTOS

POLITICS EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE

PHOTO CREDITS: DENVER7

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