Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Feb. 7, 2023

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Gaetz friend to be sentenced on sex crimes, other counts

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A former Florida tax collector whose arrest led to a federal probe into U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz has cooperated in investigations of two dozen people for sex trafficking and other crimes, but it may not be enough to spare him a long time in prison when he is sentenced Thursday.

Joel Greenberg’s attorney had asked a judge only a day earlier for leniency, saying that the former Seminole County tax collector had assisted in investigations of 24 people, including eight for sex crimes, and that his cooperation had led to four federal indictments, with two more expected in the coming month.

Even federal prosecutors had asked for a significant reduction in Greenberg’s prison sentence, agreeing during a court hearing on Wednesday to a reduced range of 9 years and three months to 11 years, instead of the 21 to 27 years under federal sentencing guidelines.

But U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell said he didn’t think the scoring used to determine sentences worked appropriately in Greenberg’s case and suggested he might consider a longer prison term when he makes a final decision Thursday.

Greenberg pleaded guilty to six federal crimes, including sex trafficking of a minor, identity theft, stalking, wire fraud and conspiracy to bribe a public official. Prosecutors said he paid at least one girl to have sex with him and other men.

The minor in the sex crimes case was almost an adult and had advertised as being over age 18 in her escort profile on the website “Seeking Arrangements,” which facilitates “sugar daddy” relationships, Greenberg’s attorney, Fritz Scheller, wrote in court papers.

“He has provided significant substantial assistance to the government in the areas of public corruption, election fraud, wire fraud, and sex trafficking,” Scheller wrote.

The defense attorney also asked the judge to take into consideration Greenberg’s struggles with mental illness, starting with an attention deficit disorder diagnosis at age 7 and panic attacks, depressive and anxiety disorders as an adult. At the time he committed the crimes, he had bipolar disorder with symptoms of mania, which affected his judgment and impulse control, Scheller said.

Greenberg’s cooperation could play a role in the ongoing investigation into Gaetz over whether he paid a 17-year-old for sex. Gaetz has denied the allegations and previously said they were part of an extortion plot. No charges have been brought against the Republican congressman, who represents a large part of the Florida Panhandle.

Greenberg has been linked to other Florida politicians and their associates. So far, none has been implicated by name in the sex trafficking investigation.

Some documents related to Greenberg’s cooperation were filed under seal and out of the public eye, with prosecutors and the defense attorney saying they were part of ongoing investigations being conducted by federal authorities in Florida and Washington, as well as state investigators.

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