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The Crazy Case of Gaetz Wingman’s Fraudulent COVID Relief Loans

The Daily Beast logo The Daily Beast 4/26/2021 Roger Sollenberger
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty © Provided by The Daily Beast Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty

Lost in all of the news surrounding an alleged sex ring involving Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and his close associate Joel Greenberg are allegations about a more 2020 kind of crime: fraudulent COVID relief loans.

Among the 33 charges Joel Greenberg is facing—including sex trafficking—are allegations that he bribed a government official and obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). According to the indictment, Greenberg, with the help of unnamed co-conspirators, bribed a newly hired Small Business Administration official in order to skirt federal regulations that would have otherwise prevented him from accessing disaster relief money set aside for businesses hurt by the pandemic.

Greenberg was himself an elected official at the time—the Seminole County tax collector—and he did not even operate an independent business, let alone one that would qualify for the taxpayer-backed COVID relief loans he sought. He allegedly got around that technicality by reinstating two of his companies that had been defunct for years—DG3 Enterprises and Greenberg Media Group, both terminated in 2016, the year he was first elected tax collector.

Prosecutors say Greenberg, with help from a “Recruiter Conspirator,” conscripted a government loan officer to override the SBA’s automated system. Among the list of criteria that the co-conspirators faked was revenue in the preceding year (a combined $1.2 million), the number of employees (12), operational dates, and, rather remarkably, that Greenberg was not under criminal indictment at the time. He applied for the loan on June 24, the day after federal law enforcement arrested him on charges of identity theft and stalking a political opponent.

That same day, Greenberg, on partial release from jail and knowing he would soon be removed from office, immediately returned to his desk and attempted to secretly execute county real estate deals that would benefit some of his associates, according to a source familiar with the events. Although that scheme was thwarted, the EIDL application was not. Two days later, Greenberg was $132,900 richer, according to the charging document. He reinstated his companies with the Florida secretary of state two days after that.

But for Greenberg, the son of a wealthy Florida dentistry mogul, that apparently wasn’t enough. On July 21, he received roughly $300,000 from two additional EIDLs, bumping his total to more than $400,000, according to the Project on Government Oversight's COVID loan tracker. He paid the SBA official $3,000 for her trouble, using the online payment platform Cash App, and his friend and co-conspirator pocketed $16,000, according to prosecutors.

The scheme netted six new counts against Greenberg, including defrauding the government, bribing a government official, theft, and wire fraud. Prosecutors want him to forfeit the full $432,700, and it’s unclear what he did with the money.

Those alleged crimes, however, would appear to be among some of the least of Greenberg’s worries. About a month after he received the second loan installment, prosecutors hit him with a scad of new charges, including sex-trafficking a 17-year-old girl.

Those allegations are said to have stemmed from the initial investigation sometime after Greenberg’s release in late June, and also reportedly gave rise to a parallel federal investigation into Gaetz, his close friend and wingman. The loan fraud allegations against Greenberg did not appear until his third indictment late last month, which swelled to a total of 33 charges.

Gaetz, who has acknowledged the investigation, also got pandemic relief money. His family-owned senior care company CareGivers Inc, in which Gaetz holds a sizable stake, took in $475,000 in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans.

Greenberg’s attorney did not reply to a request for comment.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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