Matt Gaetz trip to Bahamas is part of federal probe into sex trafficking, sources say
Federal investigators are looking into a Bahamas trip Matt Gaetz allegedly took in late 2018 or early 2019 as part of an inquiry into whether the Florida representative violated sex trafficking laws, multiple sources told CBS News.
Gaetz was on that trip with a marijuana entrepreneur and hand surgeon named Jason Pirozzolo, who allegedly paid for the travel expenses, accommodations, and female escorts, the sources said.
Investigators are trying to determine if the escorts were illegally trafficked across state or international lines for the purpose of sex with the congressman.
"Traveling across state lines is what creates a federal hook for a prosecution," Arlo Devlin-Brown, a former prosecutor and partner at Covington & Burling, said in a report that aired on the "CBS Evening News with Norah O'Donnell." "It doesn't matter that [Gaetz] personally paid them as long as he knows someone is doing that."
The Justice Department declined to comment. Pirozzolo did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him, and declined to comment on his relationship with Gaetz and whether he paid for escorts for him when asked by CBS News on Wednesday outside his office in Orlando.
In a statement to CBS News, a spokesperson from Gaetz's office said: "Rep. Gaetz has never paid for sex, nor has he had sex with an underage girl. What began with blaring headlines about 'sex trafficking' has now turned into a general fishing exercise about vacations and consensual relationships with adults. Yesterday, we even learned of some nonsense 'pardon' story that turned out to be false, and today it's just more euphemism. It's interesting to watch the Washington wheels grinding so hard every time one of their falsehoods gets knocked down."
Investigators also want to know if Gaetz was accepting paid escorts in exchange for political access or legislative favors, the sources said.
In a July 2018 podcast, Pirozzolo told Ganjapreneur.com that Gaetz was working to introduce federal legislation that would boost medical research of cannabis.
"In fact, Congressman Matt Gaetz is in the process of working on legislation up in Washington, D.C., that will help facilitate research on the nationwide level. And we should see a lot of good benefit from them," Pirozzolo said in the podcast. "We've got Congressmen that are actually dealing with this federal legislation right now."
Gaetz introduced the Medical Cannabis Research Act in April 2018 and again in January 2019, though it never came to a vote.
"If there's evidence of a quid pro quo that the congressman was provided with benefits in return for him sponsoring some legislation that's of interest to the donor, that that's a federal crime," said Devlin-Brown.
Pirozzolo is the co-founder and chairman of the board of the Medical Marijuana Physicians Association (AMMPA), and Gaetz was a speaker at two of the organization's conferences. The first took place in October 2017 when Gaetz was joined by Trump ally Roger Stone. According to the Central Florida Post, the conference was immediately followed by a fundraiser for Gaetz's congressional campaign. The second was in May 2018 at the group's "NFL and Medical Cannabis Conference" in Miami.
FEC records reviewed by CBS News show that Pirozzolo made two separate donations of $1,000 each to Gaetz's campaign arm, "Friends of Matt Gaetz," in March 2016 and May 2017.
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