Joel Greenberg, an associate of embattled Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, is negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors.
Prosecutors and a defense attorney told a judge in federal court in Orlando on Thursday they are working on a plea deal with Greenberg, the former Seminole County tax collector, multiple media outlets reported.
Greenberg resigned last June after being indicted on multiple charges. The indictment was expanded to 33 federal charges last week that include sex trafficking, bribery, fraud and using his position to create fake IDs. According to multiple media reports, the investigation into Greenberg led investigators to open a separate investigation involving Gaetz and whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her travel and if he paid for sex with other women. Gaetz has not been charged with a crime.
Gaetz and Greenberg were friends and supporters of each other politically.
The judge in Greenberg’s case gave both sides until May 15 to negotiate a plea deal in the case.
Speaking to members of the media after the hearing, Greenberg’s attorney Fritz Scheller was asked if Gaetz should be concerned about what happened in court Thursday.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said.
Gaetz has vehemently denied all accusations that he did anything illegal. Gaetz’s office did not respond to a request for comment to the News Journal about the hearing Thursday.
Just as news of the hearing broke, Gaetz’s office issued a statement that was signed by “The Women of the Office of U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz,” though it does not include specific names. There are eight women on Gaetz’s staff.
“After the shocking allegations last week in the press, we, the women of Congressman Matt Gaetz’s office, feel morally obligated to speak out,” the statement said. “Congressman Gaetz has always been a principled and morally grounded leader. At no time has any one of us experienced or witnessed anything less than the utmost professionalism and respect. No hint of impropriety. No ounce of untruthfulness.”
The statement called on others to voice their support for Gaetz.
“On every occasion, he has treated each and every one of us with respect. Thus, we uniformly reject these allegations as false,” the statement said. “Congressman Gaetz will continue to lead by example and stand for the people of America who have been maligned by the liberal elite. And we will stand with him. While we recognize the scrutiny we will face for making this decision, we take comfort in the hope that more Americans and elected officials will stand up and refuse to remain silent.”
Few elected Republican officials have voiced outright support for Gaetz since the news of the investigation became public last week. On Wednesday, former President Donald Trump issued a short statement in response to a New York Times report that Gaetz had sought a blanket pardon in the final weeks of Trump’s term.
“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” Trump said. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
The hearing Thursday came after a new report from CBS News said federal investigators are now scrutinizing a trip Gaetz made to the Bahamas in 2018 or 2019 with an Orlando doctor, Jason Pirozzolo.
CBS News reported Pirozzolo allegedly paid for the travel, accommodations and “female escorts.”
Pirozzolo is an investor in the medical marijuana business in Florida and has made donations to Gaetz’s political campaigns.
Gaetz has long been a supporter of ending federal restrictions on medical marijuana.
Gaetz’s office responded to the CBS story again denying any allegations that he paid for sex or had sex with a minor.
“What began with blaring headlines about ‘sex trafficking’ has now turned into a general fishing exercise about vacations and consensual relationships with adults,” the statement said.
Jim Little can be reached at [email protected] and 850-208-9827.