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Rep. Matt Gaetz’s wingman, Joel Greenberg, pleaded guilty Monday to six charges, including sex trafficking, laying the groundwork for him to testify against associates he claims to have supplied with young women.
Although Gaetz’s name does not appear in the plea agreement that Greenberg signed with federal prosecutors, Greenberg did name him in a confession letter that was obtained by The Daily Beast.
In that handwritten note, which Florida prosecutors also obtained, Greenberg wrote that both he and Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old—though Greenberg claimed the two men did not know she was underage at the time.
The Republican congressman has denied having sex with anyone underage, even though Greenberg wrote in his note that he informed Gaetz the girl was a minor when he learned how old she was.
Greenberg’s troubles began when the U.S. Secret Service began investigating him for misusing his role as the Seminole County Tax Collector—which soon mushroomed into several probes.
He was ultimately hit with 33 counts for crimes ranging from making fake IDs to using state resources to mine Bitcoin. In the plea deal filed last week, Greenberg agreed to cop to six felonies, including sex trafficking of a child, wire fraud, and stalking. The other 27 counts will be dismissed in exchange for his cooperation.
Gaetz is adopting a public air of nonchalance about the scandal, joking during a political appearance in Ohio over the weekend that he is “being falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favors” and then bizarrely trying to equate those allegations with a congressional budgetary process known as earmarking.
As he said during a speech in Miami last month, “The smears against me range from distortions of my personal life to wild—and I mean wild—conspiracy theories.”
Since Gaetz was revealed to be a target of the investigation, pressure has mounted on him week by week with new, damaging allegations. Last week, The Daily Beast reported that two witnesses place Gaetz in a Florida hotel room after a 2019 GOP fundraiser, snorting cocaine with an escort who had a no-show state job through Greenberg.
A source familiar with the investigation told The Beast that Greenberg will identify that escort, Megan Zalonka, to investigators as one of more than 15 young women Gaetz paid for sex.
Investigators are now trying to unravel an alleged prostitution ring that includes predatory sexual behavior with a 17-year-old.
Venmo payments between Gaetz and Greenberg show that Gaetz paid his friend to “Hit up” that teenager soon after she turned 18. The confession letter also details how Greenberg “did see the acts occur firsthand” and set up many of Gaetz’s paid sexual encounters with young college students, and at least one Venmo transaction shows Gaetz paying Greenberg with the love hotel emoji (“🏩”) in the memo field.
By pleading guilty, Greenberg becomes the first publicly-known individual to strike a bargain with the government, positioning him to become a witness against co-conspirators. But sources tell The Daily Beast that investigators are also putting pressure on other associates and potential witnesses, including Gaetz’s own ex-girlfriend and Greenberg’s friends.