ORLANDO, Florida — Citing concerns about the credibility of key witnesses against him — including former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg — Justice Department appeals have recommended not to charge U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz with sex trafficking, according to a report.
The Washington Post reported Friday that unnamed prosecutors told their superiors that a conviction against Gaetz, R-Fla., would be “unlikely.” According to the Post report, a final decision has not yet been made, adding, “It is rare for such advice to be rejected.”
Gaetz, who has denied wrongdoing since news of the probe surfaced, is now unlikely to face criminal charges, the report said.
The report attributed the information to “people familiar with the case.” Gaetz, 40, has reportedly been under investigation since late 2020, an investigation that arose from the case against Greenberg, who has pleaded guilty to sex trafficking and other charges and is awaiting sentencing.
Greenberg’s plea deal required him to cooperate with prosecutors, and court records show that he gave them multiple interviews. He has also spoken with state investigators as part of their investigation into the 2020 Florida ghost candidates scandal and other cases.
Greenberg’s attorney, Fritz Scheller, said Friday that he had not read the Post’s message.
“I have not received any information from the government regarding its decision to discontinue the investigation and prosecution (of Gaetz),” he said. “Nevertheless, based on my knowledge of the evidence, I would be surprised by such a decision.”
Although Gaetz represents a district in the Panhandle, he and Greenberg became friends and political allies before the tax collector was arrested in June 2020 on federal charges.
Greenberg admitted in his plea deal that he paid women and a 17-year-old girl for sex. According to multiple reports, the investigation into Gaetz sought to determine whether he also had sex with the teen or other paid sex that would violate human trafficking laws, which Gaetz has denied.
Among other charges, Greenberg was charged with fabricating fake evidence to smear a political rival as a child molester, something that could jeopardize his credibility as a witness.
According to the Post report, the other witness against Gaetz whose credibility accusers concerned was an ex-girlfriend who testified before a grand jury in Orlando this year and who was reportedly on a 2018 trip to the Bahamas under investigation by investigators.
Her testimony, the report said, “has issues experienced prosecutors believe would not make it through a jury.”
The investigation into Gaetz, a prominent ally of former President Donald Trump, reportedly began while Trump was still in the White House and the Justice Department was overseen by then Attorney General William Barr.
According to a report from the Post last week, testimony given to the select House committee investigating the US Capitol riots revealed that Gaetz at one point sought preemptive pardon over the sex trafficking investigation. .
It is unclear what impact a decision not to charge Gaetz could have on Greenberg’s sentence. He faces a mandatory minimum of 12 years in prison, but had hoped to get a lesser sentence by offering prosecutors “substantial aid”.
That usually means helping set things up against other targets.
Several people in Greenberg’s orbit have been charged, but not in connection with his alleged trafficking of the 17-year-old.
An indictment was opened this week against Michael Shirley, who worked for Greenberg and is accused of bribing an official who fits the description of the former tax collector as part of a kickback scheme. Greenberg’s office paid Shirley’s company approximately $678,000 as of 2017.
Federal prosecutors have also charged another apparent participant in the scheme: former radio host Joe Ellicott, who pleaded guilty in February to paying Greenberg thousands of dollars in cash.
Two other Greenberg employees, former real estate adviser to his firm Keith Ingersoll and James Adamcyzk, are expected to plead guilty to charges of participating in a multimillion-dollar real estate fraud scheme. It is unclear whether Greenberg had any involvement in that case.
Greenberg is currently in Orange County Prison and is expected to be sentenced on December 1. He pleaded guilty to six felony charges in May 2021, including sex trafficking of a child, identity theft, stalking, wire transfer fraud, creating false driver’s licenses and conspiracy. to bribe an official.
(Martin E. Comas of the Sentinel staff contributed to this story.)