Ex-tax collector Joel Greenberg agrees to pay nearly $1.9 million in restitution, Seminole County's attorney says

Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS
·5 min read

ORLANDO, Fla. — Seminole County’s attorney Tuesday said he has reached an agreement with former tax collector Joel Greenberg toward the payment of nearly $1.9 million in restitution for public money that was misspent during his time in office.

“I have reached a tentative agreement, a verbal agreement — and I emphasize verbal — with Joel Greenberg’s attorney for restitution in the amount of $1,870,351,” county Attorney Bryant Applegate told commissioners.

Applegate added that he expects the county to obtain the money at Greenberg’s sentencing scheduled for March in federal court in downtown Orlando or “prior thereto.”

Greenberg’s attorney Fritz Scheller confirmed that a settlement had been reached regarding Greenberg paying back money to Seminole County.

“Mr. Greenberg is cooperating with both the federal and county governments toward the payment of restitution,” said Scheller, without adding any other details.

Scheller last July said that Greenberg desires “to make amends for his conduct.”

Since Greenberg was first arrested in June 2020 and eventually charged with 33 federal crimes, county attorneys have sought to claw back hundreds of thousands of dollars that a county audit said were either questionable or the fraudulent spending of public money by Greenberg and his friends and consultants that he hired.

That included the purchase of sports memorabilia — such as shoes and basketballs signed by NBA stars Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan — he charged to an American Express card belonging to the Tax Collector’s Office. It also included the purchase of cryptocurrency with public money and a real estate transaction for a new branch office in Winter Springs, according to the audit.

Applegate broke down the total restitution amount as follows:

—$354,000 in personal expenditures made with the public office’s credit cards.

—$262,000 regarding the “flip” of a Tax Collector’s Office property.

—$2,754 for the purchase of the sports memorabilia.

—$98,000 in equipment for blockchain transactions.

—Roughly $470,000 for attorneys fees spent by the Tax Collector’s Office after criminal investigations into Greenberg were launched by the U.S. Department of Justice in early 2020.

—$685,630 for salaries and payments Greenberg made to friends and business associates he hired with public money to work as “consultants.”

The audit, commissioned by Seminole County in the weeks following Greenberg’s first arrest, flagged nearly a dozen consultants hired by the former tax collector to fill murky roles for whom little or no work product could be found.

Regarding the real estate transaction, Applegate said he could not “go into details on that.”

However, four months after taking office in January 2017, Greenberg purchased a former bank building on State Road 434 in Winter Springs for $810,000 in public cash — hours after another company formed a few months earlier by Greenberg’s close friend Keith Ingersoll and associate James Adamczyk bought it for $680,000. Greenberg also gave Ingersoll’s company an extra $132,000 for the office furniture and a bank vault.

The audit called the transaction “possible fraudulent activity” in the report.

“The acquisition of this property has collusion written all over it,” Dan O’Keefe, an auditor with MSL CPAs & Advisors, wrote in his audit report commissioned by the county.

Ingersoll and Adamczyk were charged last November by federal prosecutors, who accused them of an unrelated multimillion-dollar real estate fraud scheme by bilking an Orlando-area investor out of more than $12 million, according to a federal grand jury indictment.

Applegate said the settlement agreement came with Greenberg after several months of discussions with Scheller; the county’s outside attorney Kara Wick of Foley & Lardner; the U.S. attorney’s office, and current tax collector J.R. Kroll.

“Everyone has been open and cooperative over these long months and many, many meetings and phone calls,” Applegate said.

He added the next step is the county recovering the full amount.

“I can assure you if that does not happen, then I will be asking the commission at a public meeting to continue the employment of the law firm Foley & Lardner to go after every individual and every entity possible to collect these funds,” Applegate said.

Greenberg is currently in the Orange County Jail awaiting sentencing in federal court, which is scheduled to occur in March.

He pleaded guilty last May to six felony charges, including sex trafficking of a child, identity theft, stalking, wire fraud, creating fake driver’s licenses and conspiracy to bribe a public official. As part of his plea agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office, Greenberg has agreed to forfeit $654,800 in assets he obtained through his public position as tax collector.

According to state financial disclosure forms Greenberg filed while he was in office, he listed his worth at the end of 2019 at nearly $5.9 million. That included $5.5 million worth of stock in his family’s business AWG Inc. and $276,000 in bank accounts. He also drew nearly $400,000 in income from his family’s business in 2019, according to the financial report.

He and his wife, Abby Greenberg, purchased a home in Heathrow for $600,000 in 2019, according to county records. Abby Greenberg filed for divorce last October, according to court records.

Seminole commissioners, at the request of Applegate, did not comment on the attorney’s announcement.

“There are still pending investigations, and there may be new ones down the road,” Applegate said.

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