Two federal charges against former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg —which allege he falsely accused a political opponent of sexual misconduct and stole his identity by creating fake social media accounts — are unconstitutional and should be thrown out, a motion filed Monday by his attorney said.
“The government has charged Mr. Greenberg for his speech,” Greenberg’s attorney Vincent A. Citro wrote in the court filing, arguing Greenberg’s actions were protected under the First Amendment.
Federal prosecutors say Greenberg sent letters to Trinity Preparatory School falsely claiming that Brian Beute, a teacher who was running against Greenberg for tax collector, had committed sexual misconduct. The nine letters, sent between Oct. 10 and Nov. 15, purported to have been written by a concerned student but had Greenberg’s DNA and fingerprints on them, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors have also said Greenberg set up a fake Twitter account, with Beute’s name and photo, that falsely claimed the teacher advocated for white supremacy and segregation, and a fake Facebook account that purported to belong to a teacher concerned about Beute abusing a student.
But Citro said that the federal statute that prosecutors used to charge Greenberg is “unconstitutionally vague” and violates Greenberg’s Fifth Amendment rights of due process because the law doesn’t clearly state what specific conduct is unlawful.
“The popular social media site Facebook hosts countless posts intended to harass and/or cause substantial emotional distress,” Citro wrote. “Posts range from unflattering or embarrassing portrayals of people, to attempts to boycott an organization or company with the hopes that it will change some policy the user does not like.”
Greenberg has pleaded not guilty. He has since resigned and ended his campaign for re-election. His allegations against Beute were reviewed by local authorities and found to be baseless, officials have said.
Citro declined to comment on the recent motion or the case against Greenberg.
Monday’s motion does not mention or address four other federal charges filed against Greenberg this month, including that as tax collector he stole surrendered driver’s licenses and used them to create fake IDs for himself, something prosecutors say he continued to do up until his final day as tax collector.
While arresting Greenberg at his Heathrow home on June 23, federal agents found several stolen IDs in his work vehicle, a pair of fake driver’s licenses in his wallet and materials for making more fakes in his office, according to prosecutors.
Greenberg is also suspected of using Florida’s Driver and Vehicle Information Database to conduct inappropriate or unauthorized searches of various individuals using his account and another employee’s account.
A ruling on the latest motion will likely not come for several weeks. And a trial date will likely not be set until September.
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