Friend of embattled U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz readies guilty plea

Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), puts on his mask at a hearing on Afghanistan, in Washington
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By Jan Wolfe and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A former Florida official central to the federal investigation of Republican U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz in connection with possible sex trafficking of a minor will plead guilty on Monday, a court filing showed, in a potentially troublesome development for the congressman.

The plea deal in a federal court in Orlando, Florida, will resolve some charges against Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector in Florida's Seminole County, Greenberg's attorney Fritz Scheller said in an interview on Thursday. Greenberg has been accused of sex trafficking of a child, aggravated identity theft and wire fraud, among other federal charges,

Greenberg, 37, is a friend of staunch Donald Trump supporter Gaetz, 39, who also faces a federal investigation into a relationship with an underage girl, a law enforcement source has said.

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

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," Hill said.

The charges Greenberg faces include having letters sent to a school where a political rival worked, falsely accusing the man of sexual misconduct with a student, according to federal prosecutors

At an April 8 court hearing, prosecutors indicated that a plea deal with Greenberg was imminent, according to local media reports.

Asked at the time by reporters whether Gaetz should be worried about a Greenberg plea, Greenberg attorney Scheller replied, “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.”

Scheller may have been referring to media reports that Greenberg might cooperate with federal investigators in their investigation of Gaetz. Plea bargains often include a promise to cooperate with law enforcement in investigations.

It was disclosed in March that the U.S. Justice Department had opened an investigation into the three-term congressman from Florida, who gained prominence in Washington as an enthusiastic defender of fellow Republican Trump and promoter of the false claim that the November 2020 election was stolen from the then-president through widespread voting fraud.

The investigation focused on whether Gaetz had violated federal sex-trafficking laws by paying travel expenses for a 17-year-old girl.

In an opinion column published last month on the Washington Examiner website, Gaetz declared he had no plans to resign from Congress.

“There are exactly zero credible (or even non-credible) accusers willing to come forward by name and state on the public record that I behaved improperly toward them,” Gaetz wrote.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Mark Hosenball, Editing by Scott Malone, Franklin Paul and Jonathan Oatis)

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