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Scandal-plagued Florida politician Joel Greenberg reportedly tried to leverage his relationship with Rep. Matt Gaetz to get a pardon from Trump

Business Insider logo Business Insider 4/12/2021 (Grace Panetta)
a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Joel Greenberg. Seminole County © Seminole County Joel Greenberg. Seminole County
  • Joel Greenberg tried to use his relationship with Matt Gaetz to get a Trump pardon, Politico reported.
  • Greenberg is facing a slew of federal charges, including sex trafficking of a minor.
  • Gaetz is the focus of an investigation into whether he broke sex-trafficking laws and paid for sex.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Joel Greenberg, a Florida politician, tried to pressure GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz to secure a pardon from President Donald Trump, Politico reported on Monday.

Greenberg and Gaetz, close allies in Florida and strong supporters of Trump, are now facing scrutiny from the Department of Justice and an investigation into allegations of sex trafficking of a minor.

Two sources told Politico that Greenberg had spoken about pushing Gaetz to use his relationship with Trump to ask for a pardon. Gaetz has refused to confirm or deny whether Greenberg had asked for a pardon, but he has denied passing along such a request to Trump.

Read more: Biden is expected to name a former top Obama-era federal prosecutor to lead the Justice Department's criminal division, sources say

Politico also reported that in August, in the days before he was charged with sex trafficking, a panic-stricken Greenberg vented to an associate over the encrypted messaging app WhatsApp that prosecutors were zeroing in on his Venmo transactions with the woman, whom he referred to as "Vintage 99."

Politico said the moniker, a reference to the year the woman was born, was her display name on the dating website SeekingArrangement, where mainly young women seek relationships with "sugar daddies." Politico said the woman, whom it did not name, did not return its requests for comment.

"I'm having to pay for vintage 99 to retain [a] lawyer," Greenberg wrote on WhatsApp to the person, whom Politico described as a powerful Republican in the state. Federal agents "contacted her and are wanting her to talk," Greenberg said, according to Politico. "She doesn't want to talk to them."

The other person said they didn't want to be roped into Greenberg's mounting troubles with the law, telling Politico that the entire exchange "felt like a setup."

"I have nothing to do with any of this and think it is incredibly uncool you are trying to lawyer me up to be a part of it, Joel," he said over WhatsApp. "Not. F---ing. Cool."

Greenberg, a former Republican tax collector in Seminole County, is facing 33 federal charges, including sex trafficking of a minor, stalking a rival candidate for the tax collector's office, aggravated identity theft, making fake IDs, wire fraud, illegal monetary transfers involving bitcoin, and conspiracy to bribe an official at the Small Business Administration to secure fraudulent COVID-19 relief loans.

The sex-trafficking charge carries a mandatory sentence of 10 years to life in prison.

The Department of Justice is also investigating allegations that Gaetz was involved in illegal sex trafficking of a minor and that he'd paid women for sex. The investigation began under the Trump administration and appears to have been spun off of the wide-ranging investigation into Greenberg. Gaetz, who has not been charged with a crime, has denied engaging in any illegal activity.

In December and January, Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of several political allies, including Roger Stone; Paul Manafort; Steve Bannon; Michael Flynn; George Papadopoulos; his son-in-law's father, Charles Kushner; and former Reps. Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter, two of his earliest supporters, along with Hunter's wife.

Greenberg and his lawyers are expected to strike a plea deal with prosecutors in the next month. Former DOJ officials recently told Insider's Sonam Sheth that the breadth and severity of the charges against Greenberg increased the incentive for him to cooperate, which could heighten the legal peril for Gaetz.

"It's the same playbook he used against the teacher he falsely smeared as a pedophile," the Republican on the other end of the WhatsApp conversation told Politico, referring to the stalking charge against Greenberg. "And he'll do the same thing to Gaetz if he can get less prison time."

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