ORLANDO (CBSMiami/AP) - Former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, a key figure in the federal investigation of Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, pleaded guilty Monday to six federal charges and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of a plea deal.
Greenberg, a longtime associate of Gaetz, appeared in federal court in Orlando. He pleaded guilty to six of the nearly three dozen charges he faced, including sex trafficking of a minor, and he admitted that he had paid at least one underage girl to have sex with him and other men.
Prosecutors describe the sex trafficking scheme in the plea documents as a series of "sugar daddy"-style relationships where Greenberg frequently tried to hide some of his 150 or more payments to women.
He paid women more than $70,000 for sex over two years through December 2018, the document detailing his admissions says.
Greenberg sought out women on a website for "sugar daddies," prosecutors said, then paid them through his personal Venmo account, bank account and credit card. He also used an American Express card from his tax collector's office.
When he would send the payments of a few hundred dollars over the mobile app Venmo, Greenberg would mark them as school-related, "food" or "ice cream" expenses.
A girl who at the time was younger than 18 had met Greenberg over the website, prosecutors said, and told him she was an adult. They then communicated over Snapchat, another messaging app, until they met on a boat.
On the boat, they didn't have sex, but Greenberg still paid the girl $400, prosecutors say. Later, Greenberg paid more than $400 for sex with the girl at a hotel in central Florida, he admitted in the plea deal.
The hotel meetings then became more frequent -- as did Greenberg's communications with the victim in 2017. Greenberg began to offer paying her and others to take the drug Ecstasy, he admitted in his plea documents.
"Greenberg and the Minor met at hotels in the Middle District of Florida, often with others, at which Greenberg and the Minor engaged in commercial sex acts," at least seven times, his plea admissions document states.
Gaetz was not mentioned in the plea agreement or during the court hearing. But Greenberg's cooperation, as a key figure in the investigation, may escalate the potential legal and political liability that the firebrand Florida congressman is facing.
Federal investigators are still examining whether Gaetz broke federal sex trafficking, prostitution, and public corruption laws and whether he had sex with a minor. Gaetz has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing.
Investigators have also been looking at whether Gaetz and his associates tried to secure government jobs for some of the women, the people said. They are also scrutinizing Gaetz's connections to the medical marijuana sector, including whether his associates sought to influence legislation Gaetz sponsored.
Gaetz has denied the allegations and any accusation of wrongdoing and has said repeatedly he will not resign from Congress. A spokesman for the congressman has said Gaetz "never had sex with a minor and has never paid for sex."
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