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Matt Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg has been accused of everything from acting as a vigilante police officer to trying to hack rival politicians

Business Insider logo Business Insider 4/12/2021 (Grace Panetta)
a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Seminole County © Seminole County Seminole County
  • Embattled former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg had a troubled tenure in office, the NYT reports.
  • Before being charged with federal crimes, Greenberg was accused of abusing his office and wasting taxpayer funds.
  • Greenberg, an associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz, is now a key player in the investigation against Gaetz.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Embattled former Seminole County, Florida, tax collector Joel Greenberg, now a major player in the federal probe against Rep. Matt Gaetz, had a long history of being accused of official misconduct, including having complaints filed accusing him of acting as a vigilante police officer and abusing taxpayer funds.

A new examination of Greenberg's tenure by The New York Times on Sunday uncovered numerous warning signs about Greenberg's conduct in office. After a somewhat troubled youth, Greenberg was elected to the position of tax collector in the county in 2016, defeating the longtime incumbent in a primary challenge.

The Times said that Greenberg soon found himself "bored" in his position and sought ways to use it to his personal advantage, a tendency that would lead to his downfall and formal resignation in 2020.

Read more: Matt Gaetz is employing Trump-style fundraising pitches - including automatic recurring contributions that could dupe donors

In a complaint filed with the county's sheriff's office and reported by The Times, a woman said that in 2017 Greenberg pulled her over with his tax collector's badge around his neck and yelled at her for apparently cutting him off, saying she drove "like a bat out of hell."

Greenberg was also accused of spending over $1 million in taxpayer funds for gear including weapons and a drone, creating "no-show jobs" for family and members of his wedding party, and of trying to solicit help to hack computers belonging to member of the county commission who had criticized him.

One lawyer who represented one of Greenberg's former employees told The Times: "It's like the Tiger King got elected tax collector."

Greenberg was also accused of stalking Brian Beute, a rival Democratic candidate for tax collector and local music teacher who had advocated against a real estate development supported by Greenberg.

Greenberg's actions, according to the indictment against him, included sending a fake anonymous letter to the school claiming Beute had an inappropriate relationship with a student (and making a Facebook account to perpetuate the same false claims) and creating a fake Twitter account posing as Beutler that posted white supremacist and pro-segregationist content.

Greenberg was first criminally charged with stalking Beute and unlawfully using his identity by federal prosecutors in June 2020.

He now faces over 30 federal charges ranging from sex trafficking of a child, aggravated identity theft, creating fake IDs, wire fraud, illegal monetary transfers, and conspiracy to bribe a public official to defraud the Small Business Administration for COVID-19 relief funds, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The Sentinel reports that Greenberg is expected to strike a plea deal to plead guilty to some of the charges by mid-May. Greenberg faces 10 years to life in prison on the sex trafficking charge alone.

During his tumultuous tenure as tax collector, Greenberg became friends with Gaetz, and was brought into the fray of Republican politics in the state. He even spoke at a rally for former President Donald Trump in 2016.

Gaetz is under federal investigation for possible trafficking of a minor across state lines. Authorities are also examining whether Gaetz and Greenberg paid women for sex. Gaetz has denied the accusations and has not yet been charged with a crime.

Insider's Sonam Sheth recently reported that the extent of Greenberg's current legal woes could up the pressure on him to cooperate against others involved in the charges against him, and potentially cause serious trouble for Gaetz.

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