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Plea deal could spell more trouble for Matt Gaetz

Yahoo! News logo Yahoo! News 6 days ago David Knowles

Embattled Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., received more bad news on Thursday with the disclosure that one of his close friends, former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, is expected to plead guilty in the coming days to a range of criminal charges and may be cooperating with the investigation into Gaetz. 

“I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Greenberg attorney Fritz Scheller told reporters following a Thursday hearing at the federal courthouse in Orlando.

At the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg disclosed that Greenberg would plead guilty to a wide range of charges that include sex trafficking, the same crime at the heart of a Justice Department investigation into Gaetz. 

"We believe this case is going to be a plea," Handberg said during the hearing, according to Politico. "My hope would be that it is done this month."

Scheller confirmed that Greenberg was seeking a deal with prosecutors. "I expect this case to be resolved with a plea," Scheller said, but added that he did not think it is “realistic for the plea to be resolved this month.” 

An ongoing Justice Department investigation is looking into whether Gaetz, 38, had sex with a 17-year-old girl and provided her with anything of value in return. Federal child sex trafficking law prohibits providing anything of value to someone under the age of 18 in exchange for sex. Greenberg is said to have had sex with the same girl and taken her on trips out of state. 

The New York Times reported last week that it had been shown copies of payments made by Gaetz to two women using a mobile app. The women, according to the paper, told friends that those payments were made in exchange for sex with the congressman. 

Matt Gaetz wearing a suit and tie holding a gun: Rep. Matt Gaetz. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images) © Provided by Yahoo! News Rep. Matt Gaetz. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

The Miami Herald reported on competitions held by Gaetz and former male colleagues in the Florida Legislature that established a point-scoring system for sleeping with female interns, lawmakers and associates. Gaetz is said to have regularly boasted of his sexual conquests to other members of Congress, sometimes showing off pictures and video. 

Earlier Thursday, “The Women of the Office of U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz” issued a press release in support of their boss. 

“Congressman Gaetz has always been a principled and morally grounded leader,” the statement read. “At no time has any one of us experienced or witnessed anything less than the utmost professionalism and respect. No hint of impropriety. No ounce of untruthfulness.”

But two senior Gaetz staffers have also resigned since the Justice Department investigation became public. On Thursday, the New York Times reported that Devin Murphy, Gaetz's legislative director, had stepped down. His resignation followed that of Gaetz’s former communications director, Luke Ball.   

A close political ally of former President Donald Trump, Gaetz is said to have sought a blanket pardon when Trump was still in office, the Times reported. Trump and Gaetz, however, have both denied that any such request was made. 

“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” Trump said in a statement. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”

Indeed, Gaetz has vehemently denied that he had sex with the 17-year-old and has claimed he is being framed as part of an extortion plot. But a plea deal between federal prosecutors and Greenberg presents a new level of danger for the Florida congressman. 

Greenberg is currently in jail for violating the terms of his parole. If he does enter into a plea deal, he would be required to fully cooperate in any related investigation.

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