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Friend of embattled U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz to plead guilty to sex trafficking

Politics15 minutes ago (May 17, 2021 06:25AM ET)

(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Republican U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington December 11, 2019. Jose Luis Magana/Pool via REUTERS

By Jan Wolfe and Mark Hosenball

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – A former Florida official central to the federal probe into whether U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz trafficked a minor for sex will plead guilty on Monday and agree to cooperate with prosecutors, which may spell trouble for the Republican congressman.

Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector in Florida’s Seminole County, will plead guilty to charges including sex-trafficking of a minor at a court hearing at 10 a.m. EST (1400 GMT) in federal court in Orlando, Florida, according to an agreement submitted in court on Friday.

Greenberg said he would cooperate with federal prosecutors and admitted to introducing the minor he trafficked to other adult men who engaged in sex acts with the minor in Greenberg’s presence, court papers showed. The papers did not identify the other adult men.

The plea deal marks a turning point in the sprawling federal investigation that has roiled Florida politics and ensnared Gaetz, 39, one of former President Donald Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress.

Investigators are seeking to determine whether Gaetz had sex with the same 17-year-old Greenberg was accused of trafficking, according to news reports and a law enforcement source who spoke with Reuters.

Gaetz has not been charged with any crimes and has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, suggested to reporters last month that Greenberg cooperating with federal investigators could have implications for Gaetz.

“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said in April, after a court hearing where prosecutors signaled a plea deal was imminent.

When the news of Greenberg’s impending guilty plea broke on Thursday, Gaetz spokesman Harlan Hill questioned Greenberg’s credibility.

“The first indictment of Joel Greenberg alleges that he falsely accused another man of sex with a minor for his own gain. That man was apparently innocent. So is congressman Gaetz,” said Hill.

The charges Greenberg plans to plead guilty to include having letters sent to a school where a political rival worked that falsely accused the man of sexual misconduct with a student, according to federal prosecutors.

Friend of embattled U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz to plead guilty to sex trafficking

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