Joel Greenberg: The bizarre story behind how Matt Gaetz’s tax collector friend fits into sex trafficking investigation

Tumultuous record in public office ends in multiple charges with more added since news of Gaetz probe

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Wednesday 31 March 2021 23:22 BST
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Related: Tucker Carlson calls interview with Matt Gaetz ‘one of the weirdest’

Allegations of sex trafficking against Florida representative Matt Gaetz emerged from an investigation into an Orlando-area county tax collector with whom he had close ties.

The New York Times reports that a federal child sex trafficking case against Joel Greenberg, elected in 2016 as tax collector in Seminole County, sparked a separate criminal investigation into the Republican congressman.

Former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, pictured in 2019

The Justice Department is reportedly investigating allegations that Mr Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel across state lines.

Congressman Gaetz denies the allegations and maintains that they are an effort to extort his family — the subject of a separate FBI probe.

While there are no specifics as to how these inquiries fit into Mr Greenberg’s case, the two men were acquainted, have been photographed together, and were ascendant in Florida politics at around the same time.

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In 2019 the pair were pictured together outside the White House, and a 2017 photo shows them with political operative Roger Stone, later convicted on seven felony counts, but pardoned by then-president Donald Trump.

Mr Greenberg’s backstory begins in 2016 when he unseated the incumbent Republican county tax collector on an apparent wave of populism.

His opponent had held the position for three decades and was embroiled in a local controversy over real estate deals that led Mr Greenberg to rail against “crony capitalism” and “politicians using their offices for political gain”.

What followed nears parody.

One of Mr Greenberg’s first moves in office was for his deputies to carry firearms at work, despite protests from then-Florida attorney general Pam Bondi.

He then began wearing his tax collector badge as if he were a member of law enforcement and allegedly even once used it to pull over a female driver and accuse her of speeding.

Further to that, he tried to get out of his own speeding ticket by telling the officer who stopped him who he was. The incident was captured on a police body camera and he was issued with a ticket.

This conduct was fairly innocuous compared to Mr Greenberg’s other alleged activities while in office. The Orlando Sentinel reported that he gave government contracts and paid salaries to close friends and business partners including up to six people who were part of his wedding party in 2016. The paper put the total figure at $1.9m.

Public funds assigned to the tax collector’s office were also used to buy body armour, firearms, ammunition, and a drone, according to an independent audit.

Mr Greenberg then spent $66,000 on a server room for a private cryptocurrency company he founded and operated from within a county building called Government Blockchain Systems LLC.

The servers were incorrectly installed, overloaded a circuit breaker, and started a fire causing $6,700 in damage to the building that was not covered by insurance.

Mr Greenberg’s political career similarly went up in smoke on 23 June, 2020, when his home was raided by federal officers who charged him with stalking a political opponent.

It was reported that he had sent anonymous letters to the school at which his rival worked, pretending to be a “concerned student” accusing the teacher of having inappropriate sexual contact with another student.

According to the indictment, Mr Greenberg created fake Twitter and Facebook accounts made to look like they were those of his rival and posted segregationist and white supremacist material.

He resigned the next day.

As the investigation progressed, more serious charges were added. Mr Greenberg had allegedly used his office to commit identity theft and stood accused of having sex-trafficked a child.

Officials found several fake IDs in a backpack on the front seat of his government-owned SUV in the driveway of his home. Materials necessary for making fake IDs were also found in his office.

Investigators also accused him of accessing state databases to obtain personal information on people he was in “sugar daddy” relationships with. These included a minor aged between 14 and 17, The Orlando Sentinel reports.

The indictment states that Mr Greenberg allegedly made the fake IDs to “facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts”.

Mr Greenberg was released on bond after his arrest, but taken back into custody on 3 March after violating a nighttime curfew by driving to Jupiter, Florida in search of his wife at her mother’s home.

In addition, Orlando NBC-affiliate WESH reports that on Wednesday, the day after news broke regarding the investigation in Mr Gaetz, a new indictment saw 21 charges added to Mr Greenberg’s case.

These include bribery of a public official, theft of government property, and wire fraud.

Mr Greenberg is alleged to have stolen $400,000 in government money from his official office and $432,700 from the federal relief bill.

The Department of Justice claims the former tax collector paid a federal loan employee to arrange payments to bogus businesses.

He is now in Orange County Jail awaiting his trial in mid-June.

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