Joel Greenberg, the former Florida tax collector who a source said has agreed to cooperate in a federal investigation into his onetime close aide, Rep. Matt Gaetz, was sentenced Thursday to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to crimes ranging from sex fraud. underage trafficking.
Greenberg pleaded guilty last May to six of 33 federal charges against him, including stalking, identity theft, wire fraud and conspiracy to bribe a public official, as well as one count of sex trafficking.
The case gained national attention in the spring of 2021 after news emerged that the investigation into Greenberg, the Seminole County tax collector, had expanded into a broad federal investigation into whether his close friend Gaets had sex, according to multiple sources. with a minor he met through Greenberg.
Gaetz has long maintained his innocence and vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
In September of this year, The Washington Post reported that career prosecutors recommended that the Florida congressman not be charged with sex trafficking. During a subsequent interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Gaetz said he didn’t know more about the case than the media had told him, adding that “I continue to proclaim my innocence.”
Multiple sources familiar with the investigation told ABC News that the investigation into Gaetz has stalled, and federal investigators have concerns about several key witnesses in the case, including Greenberg, and the specifics of the case that could make it difficult for prosecutors to convict.
Greenberg, who was Seminole County’s tax collector for just over three years, was initially indicted in 2020 on more than 30 counts that included defrauding the Seminole County IRS of hundreds of thousands of dollars through schemes ranging from buying sports memorabilia and cryptocurrency to paying . women he met on a self-described “sugar daddy” website using an office credit card.
Greenberg reached a deal with investigators in May 2021 in which he agreed to provide “substantial assistance” to prosecutors in their ongoing probe of Gaetz and others, according to sources familiar with the deal. The former tax collector provided investigators with years of Venmo and Cash App transactions and thousands of photos and videos, as well as access to personal social media accounts.
According to Greenberg’s attorney, Fritz Scheller, he faced decades in prison before reaching a plea deal that resulted in two dozen indictments, including eight for sex crimes, seven for public cooperation and 10 for election fraud. Four people have been indicted in part because of Greenberg’s cooperation, and Scheller said two new additional indictments are expected in the coming months related to crimes stemming from fraudulent COVID relief loans.
Judge Persnell called Greenberg’s degree of cooperation “more than I’ve seen in 22 years” during sentencing Thursday. However, the court also hit Greenberg hard by sentencing him to the highest point of the sentencing guidelines.
“In 22 years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” the judge said of the extent of Greenberg’s crimes. “I have never seen a defendant commit so many different types of crimes in such a short period of time.”
In a brief address to the court, Greenberg apologized to former juvenile sex offender and school teacher Brian Beute, whom Greenberg had harassed after Beute said he would run against him for tax collector. Greenberg also apologized to his family and the taxpayers of Seminole County.
“Nothing I say today will excuse my actions,” Greenberg said. “I know I deserve to be punished.”
Before Thursday’s sentencing, Greenberg’s attorney offered veiled criticism of the Justice Department’s inaction against other individuals his client has implicated in his cooperation.
“If the government is so concerned with general deterrence, why has it not prosecuted other individuals, including public figures who were also involved in Greenberg’s crimes?” Schiller wrote in a memo filed before his client was sentenced. “Perhaps the DOJ is master strategists far beyond the capabilities of the undersigned. Or perhaps the DOJ is like Nero running away while Rome burns.”
At a pre-sentence hearing Wednesday, both the prosecution and Greenberg’s defense attorneys recommended that U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell sentence Greenberg to 9.25 to 11 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. But Presnell indicated Wednesday that he was considering a harsher sentence for Greenberg, citing concerns about the consolidation of multiple, broad charges.
“We don’t have any related crimes,” Presnell said, noting there was “no precedent” for the different crimes Greenberg pleaded guilty to.