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Matt Gaetz associate pleads guilty in sex-trafficking case, will cooperate with feds

Joel Greenberg, the former Florida tax official whose criminal case led to a sex trafficking investigation of Rep. Matt Gaetz, pleaded guilty Monday to six of the charges against him and acknowledged that he plans to fully cooperate with federal investigators.

Wearing a jail jumpsuit and a blue surgical mask and in shackles, Greenberg admitted his guilt to six of the 33 charges initially filed against him — identity theft, stalking, wire fraud, conspiracy to bribe a public official and sex trafficking of a minor.

Asked by the judge in Orlando federal court if all the counts against him were factual, he repeatedly said “yes” and “I do.”

Greenberg’s plea could spell trouble for Gaetz. Greenberg is an associate of the Florida Republican congressman, and federal officials are looking into whether the two used the internet to find women they could pay for sex and whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a minor he paid to travel with him, The New York Times reported, citing three people briefed on the matter.

Gaetz, an outspoken supporter of former President Donald Trump, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime.

Gaetz appeared to make light of the scandal while speaking to a group of Republican activists over the weekend, saying the accusations against him aren’t as bad as the return of earmarks in Congress.

“I’m being falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favors,” Gaetz said at the Ohio Political Summit. “Yet, Congress has reinstituted a process that legalizes the corrupt act of exchanging money for favors, through earmarks, and everybody knows that that’s the corruption.”

The remarks came one day after Greenberg’s plea agreement was filed in court. Documents filed in connection with the plea agreement do not mention Gaetz, and the congressman was not mentioned in court Monday.

Greenberg was remanded into custody pending his sentencing, which will take place at a later date. He faces a mandatory minimum of 12 years in prison, and under the terms of the deal, will have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution and register as a sex offender.

As part of his deal with prosecutors, Greenberg agreed “to cooperate fully with the United States in the investigation and prosecution of other persons, and to testify, subject to prosecution for perjury or making a false statement, fully and truthfully before any federal court proceeding or federal grand jury in connection with the charges in this case.”

Among the allegations Greenberg admitted to Monday was spending over $70,000 in 150 transactions to pay women for sex between 2016 and 2018. One of those women was under 18 “for part of the time” Greenberg paid her for sex acts “with him and others,” he acknowledged in court filings.

Two of the other charges he admitted to were the ones that initially got him arrested last year, identity theft and stalking. Prosecutors had charged Greenberg had used the phony identities to smear a teacher who was challenging his re-election campaign for Seminole County tax collector.

Greenberg had falsely accused the rival of having engaged in “sexual misconduct with a student,” the Justice Department said.

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