A former Florida tax official is expected to plead guilty in the criminal case that spawned the sex trafficking investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz, the official’s lawyers and prosecutors said in court Thursday.
Joel Greenberg, the former Seminole County tax collector, had previously pleaded not guilty to several charges, including stalking, wire fraud and sex trafficking of a minor.
In a brief hearing in Orlando, Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, and federal prosecutors told the judge they expect him to strike a plea deal, but the parties did not signal if Greenberg was expected to cooperate in the investigation against Gaetz, R-Fla.
“I expect this case to resolve with a plea before the June trial date,” Scheller told the judge.
Both sides agreed to a date of May 15 as the deadline to enter a plea.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz isn’t feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said outside the courthouse after the hearing.
He later clarified that remark. “When I said [Gaetz] was worried, let me tell you what I’m basing that on,” Scheller said. “You’ve seen the number of stories out there and the emphasis is on their relationship. Isn’t it obvious to assume that he would be concerned?”
Federal investigators are looking into whether Gaetz paid women to travel to the Bahamas for sex, NBC News reported Wednesday night. Investigators are also looking into whether Gaetz and Greenberg used the internet to search for women they could pay for sex.
Gaetz, who has not been charged with any crime, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
Legal experts said Greenberg would be a key witness in the investigation against Gaetz if the former tax official agrees to cooperate in the probe.
“I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Greenberg’s lawyer Fritz Scheller said outside of court. Scheller cited attorney-client privilege when asked directly if Greenberg was cooperating with prosecutors on the Gaetz case.
Scheller also refused to answer when asked if Greenberg had any incriminating evidence against Gaetz.
“I think if Mr. Greenberg accepts a plea agreement, he will want to show his sense of remorse, which he does have, and his sense of acceptance of responsibility,” Scheller said. “He’s uniquely situated.”
Gaetz said in an op-ed published Monday that he is not a criminal and that he will not be resigning.
“Since I’m taking my turn under the gun, let me address the allegations against me directly. First, I have never, ever paid for sex. And second, I, as an adult man, have not slept with a 17-year-old,” Gaetz wrote in The Washington Examiner.
He said the “bizarre” claims were made after he “decided to take on the most powerful institutions in the Beltway.”
Tom Winter is a New York-based correspondent covering crime, courts, terrorism and financial fraud on the East Coast for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
The Associated Press