Photo from Jemal Countess (Redux).
April 1, 2021 (Updated May 14, 2021)
By Terrance Turner
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) is under fire (and investigation) for his alleged relationship with a 17-year-old girl. On March 30, a New York Times story revealed that Mr. Gaetz is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with the girl and paid for her to travel to him. If true, Gaetz violated several federal trafficking laws, including the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting a minor across state lines for sex or other “immoral purposes”.
The findings are part of a larger investigation into Mr. Gaetz’s associate Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector in Florida. Federal authorities seized Greenberg’s phone and laptop, finding evidence of fake ID cards for him and a teenage girl. (They also found holograms associated with concealed handguns, per the Times.) Mr. Greenberg was indicted last summer on a varity of charges, including sex trafficking. He pled not guilty and was sent to jail last month for violating terms of his bail. His trial is set for June. It is not clear how he and Gaetz know each other. (Significantly, Matt Gaetz was the only House member to vote against a 2017 bill that would’ve given the federal government more power to combat sex trafficking.)
Gaetz, 38, strongly denied the allegations. “It is veritably false that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman,” he said on Tuesday, March 30. He then went even farther, claiming to be the victim of an extortion plot. He tweeted Tuesday: “Over the past several weeks my family and I have been the victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name.” He added that “my father has even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals.”
He further defended himself in an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson. “It is a horrible allegation, and it is false,” Gaetz insisted. “Providing for flights and for hotel rooms for people that you’re dating is not a crime.” He added: “I can say that actually, you and I went to dinner about two years ago — your wife was there. And I brought a friend of mine — you’ll remember her — and she was actually threatened by the FBI.”
“I don’t remember the woman you’re speaking of, or the context, at all,” Carlson responded.
Today, the saga reached a shocking new height. CNN is quoting multiple sources who say Gaetz showed off photos and videos of nude women whom he said he had slept with, including on the House floor. One video showed a naked woman with a hula hoop. “It was a point of pride,” one source said.
Now, the Times has learned that cash payments are involved. The Hill confirms: “Receipts on mobile payments apps reviewed by the Times show money from Gaetz and Greenberg was sent to one of the women, who told friends it was for having sex with both men.” The Times reports:
Investigators believe Joel Greenberg, the former tax collector in Seminole County, Fla., who was indicted last year on a federal sex trafficking charge and other crimes, initially met the women through websites that connect people who go on dates in exchange for gifts, fine dining, travel and allowances, according to three people with knowledge of the encounters. Mr. Greenberg introduced the women to Mr. Gaetz, who also had sex with them, the people said.
One of the women who had sex with both men also agreed to have sex with an unidentified associate of theirs in Florida Republican politics, according to a person familiar with the arrangement. Mr. Greenberg had initially contacted her online and introduced her to Mr. Gaetz, the person said.From “DOJ Probe Into Gaetz Involves Cash Payments”
Mr. Gaetz got engaged to girlfriend Ginger Luckey, 26, on New Year’s Eve, per the Pensacola News Journal. He proposed to her at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago ranch, according to the Times. Gaetz has been a vocal defender of Trump, storming congressional offices during his first impeachment and opposing certification of the 2020 election. But Trump’s response to his devoted ally has so far been radio silence.
UPDATE (April 8, 2021): After The Times reported yesterday that Gaetz sought a preemptive pardon from the White House and was rejected, Trump issued a short statement. “Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” Trump said. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
Gaetz remains firm in his denial: “My lifestyle of yesteryear may be different from how I live now, but it was not and is not illegal,” he wrote in a column in the Washington Examiner on Monday. “First, I have never, ever paid for sex,” he stated. “And second, I, as an adult man, have not slept with a 17-year-old.”
Today, word broke that Greenberg is cooperating with federal prosecutors. Politico reports that prosecutors and a defense attorney for Greenberg appeared before a judge today to discuss the next steps in a recently expanded criminal case charging Greenberg with sex trafficking of a minor, as well as stalking, bribery and defrauding the Paycheck Protection Program.
“We believe this case is going to be a plea,” federal prosecutor Roger Handberg said at the outset of the brief hearing. Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, agreed. “I expect this case to be resolved with a plea,” the lawyer told reporters after the hearing. He added: “I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.”
Gaetz’s discomfort will likely be increased by a lurid report in The Daily Beast. “In two late-night Venmo transactions in May 2018, Rep. Matt Gaetz sent his friend, the accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, $900. The next morning, over the course of eight minutes, Greenberg used the same app to send three young women varying sums of money,” write reporters Jose Pagliery and Roger Sollenberger. “In total, the transactions amounted to $900.”
The memo field for the first of Gaetz’s transactions to Greenberg was titled “Test.” In the second, the Florida GOP congressman wrote “hit up ___.” But instead of a blank, Gaetz wrote a nickname for one of the recipients. (The Daily Beast is not sharing that nickname because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.) When Greenberg then made his Venmo payments to these three young women, he described the money as being for “Tuition,” “School,” and “School.”“Gaetz Paid Accused Sex Trafficker, Who Then Venmo’d Teen”
The Daily Beast obtained Greenberg’s past online transactions (partially) and obtained credit card data that paints a damning portrait: “Greenberg and Gaetz are also connected on Venmo to at least one other woman that Greenberg paid with taxpayer funds using a government-issued credit card. Seminole County auditors flagged hundreds of those payments as ‘questioned or unaccounted for,’ and in total found more than $300,000 in suspicious or unjustified expenses. The Daily Beast was able to obtain that credit card data through a public records request.”