Joel Greenberg, former associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz, pleads guilty to sex trafficking

In a development likely to cause sleepless nights for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), former Florida tax collector and known associate of the congressman, Joel Greenberg, has reached a plea deal with prosecutors that requires his cooperation with ongoing criminal investigations that news reports suggest are centered on the GOP lawmaker, as the Washington Times explains.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Greenberg, the one-time Seminole County Tax Collector, has agreed to plead guilty to six federal charges in an agreement that requires him to cooperate in the “investigation and prosecution of other persons,” a category thought to include Gaetz.

Greenberg is slated to admit guilt on Monday to sex trafficking of a minor, wire fraud, identity theft, stalking, as well as conspiracy to bribe a public official, with 27 additional counts against him to be dismissed.

Controversy has engulfed Gaetz since earlier this year when reporting emerged that he was under federal investigation stemming from the probe of Greenberg. The congressman attempted in March to get ahead of news reports tying him to possible criminal activity, participating in a strange interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in which he claimed he was the victim of an extortion plot.

In response to the news of Greenberg’s plea deal, a spokesperson for the congressman pointed out that Gaetz “doesn’t seem to be named or referenced in Mr. Greenberg’s plea,” and that the lawmaker “has never had sex with a minor,” despite suggestions in the media that he was involved in the conduct of which his associate was accused, according to the Washington Examiner.

Reporting from the Sentinel states that federal investigators have been looking into whether Gaetz engaged in sexual relations with a 17-year-old girl Greenberg was said to have trafficked and whether the lawmaker paid to transport escorts, among other potential crimes.

If Gaetz is indeed implicated in the type of offenses for which Greenberg was charged, he could be prosecuted under the same trafficking statute as his former associate, and he could also face prosecution under the Mann Act, which was designed to prohibit interstate or cross-border transportation of anyone for purposes of prostitution, as the Sentinel added.

Though Gaetz has not been charged with a crime thus far, the plea agreement with Greenberg – described in media reports as the congressman’s “wingman” – certainly suggests that he is under increasing scrutiny and may be in serious legal jeopardy, with Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg opining to Politico:

The feds aren’t going to cut a deal with an accused child sex trafficker unless they think that Greenberg can provide evidence leading to the prosecution of someone who committed worse acts, or a bigger fish – like a sitting member of Congress.

Time will tell whether federal investigators secure sufficient information from Greenberg to pursue charges against Gaetz, but these latest developments seem unlikely to engender much optimism among the congressman and those in his camp.