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Matt Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg pleads guilty in federal sex trafficking case

Gaetz associate pleads guilty to child sex trafficking
Gaetz associate pleads guilty to child sex trafficking 02:05

Orlando, Florida — Joel Greenberg, a former county tax collector and associate of Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, pleaded guilty on Monday to six federal charges, including child sex trafficking and wire fraud.

Greenberg entered the plea during a hearing before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Orlando. 

Clad in a dark blue prison jumpsuit and handcuffs, Greenberg agreed to fully cooperate with the U.S. government. Greenberg told Judge Leslie Hoffman he understood the charges brought against him, and that by pleading guilty he was waiving his right to trial.

Greenberg had initially pleaded not guilty, but last week signed an agreement with federal prosecutors to change his plea and "cooperate fully in the investigation and prosecution of other persons." In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop 23 other charges that were included in an earlier indictment. Greenberg faces a minimum of 12 years in prison, but a judge can reduce his sentence if he fully cooperates.

After the hearing, Greenberg's attorney told CBS News his client is "going to honor his plea." Gaetz wasn't explicitly mentioned during the proceedings, but his presence hung over the courtroom, as the hearing required an overflow room for the nation's assembled media.

Greenberg was remanded to custody after the hearing to await sentencing, which is expected in roughly nine weeks.

Joel Greenberg appears in federal court in Orlando, Florida, on May 17, 2021. Daniel Pontet

Under the plea agreement, Greenberg admitted he was involved in "sugar daddy" relationships in which he paid women for sex, including a minor with whom he engaged in "commercial sex acts." The agreement also said Greenberg "introduced the minor to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts with the minor in the Middle District of Florida." 

The agreement did not identify the other adult men. Multiple sources told CBS News that Gaetz was one of the men Greenberg introduced her to and federal investigators are looking into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with her when she was 17.

Multiple sources say in September 2018, the woman in question, who by that point had turned 18, traveled to the Bahamas with Gaetz and at least three other paid escorts.  

Last month, CBS News reported investigators were trying to determine if the women were illegally trafficked across state or international lines for the purposes of sex with the congressman.

Gaetz has not been charged with any crimes and has denied any wrongdoing. After the hearing, a spokesman for Gaetz said that "Joel Greenberg has now confessed to falsely accusing an innocent man of having sex with a minor."

In a speech before a Republican group in Ohio on Saturday, Gaetz reportedly denied the allegations of sexual misconduct and compared them to the newly restored use of congressional earmarks, which allow lawmakers to direct federal funding to specific projects.

"I'm being falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favors," Gaetz said, according to NBC News. "Yet Congress has reinstituted a process that legalizes the corrupt act of exchanging money for favors, through earmarks, and everybody knows that that's the corruption."

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