Joel Greenberg pleads guilty to sex trafficking as banner flown above court reads ‘tick tock Matt Gaetz’

GOP congressman’s associate admits six felony counts and agrees to cooperate with Justice Department in other investigations

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 17 May 2021 18:44
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Matt Gaetz claims support of Trump and Taylor Greene after sex trafficking allegations
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A plane has flown a banner above US District Court in Orlando, Florida reading “Tick Tock Matt Gaetz” as the GOP congressman’s ally Joel Greenberg pleaded guilty to sex trafficking a minor, among other charges, potentially aiding prosecutors in a related investigation involving the Republican congressman.

Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector, appeared in court on Monday after admitting to introducing a “minor to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts” with her, according to a plea agreement filed on 14 May. The other men were not named.

The former Seminole County tax chief also pleaded guilty to five other felonies, including aggravated identity theft and wire fraud, in addition to the trafficking charge, as part of an agreement to dismiss the other 27 counts against him.

In exchange, he has agreed to cooperate with the US Department of Justice “in the investigation and prosecutions of other persons, and to testify” in related proceedings.

In the event that he provides “substantial assistance” in those cases, he may be eligible for a more lenient prison sentence than what is outlined in federal sentencing guidelines, according to court documents.

Mr Gaetz was not named in court documents filed in US District Court on Friday. He has not been charged with any crimes and has adamantly denied allegations against him.

Remove Ron – a group aimed at ousting the state’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis – hired the plane to fly the banner.

The Florida congressman – a close ally of former president Donald Trump – is reportedly the focus of a Justice Department investigation over an alleged relationship with a 17-year-old girl, and whether he violated federal sex trafficking laws by allegedly paying her to travel with him.

The House Ethics Committee also is investigating whether Mr Gaetz “engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use” and reports that he allegedly shared “inappropriate” images and videos on the floor of the House of Representatives.

That committee is also investigating whether he “misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use” or accepted bribes.

Greenberg has admitted to “commercial sex acts” with a minor “at least seven times” while she was under 18 years old, according to court documents. He also would “offer and supply” her with Ecstasy, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors reported more than 150 financial transactions totaling more than $70,000 from 2016 to 2018, “all of which involved Greenberg paying women for commercial sex acts” using Venmo, his American Express card or an American Express card supplied by the tax collector’s office.

Following his arrest in June 2020, Mr Greenberg contacted the girl and her friends in an effort to ensure that “their stories would line up, because he knew that his commercial sex acts with her were illegal,” according to court documents.

In a speech in Ohio on Saturday, Mr Gaetz said he is “being falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favours.”

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