The latest twist in the Matt Gaetz sex-trafficking investigation could be the most ‘scary’ one yet for the lawmaker

Rep. Matt Gaetz. AP

  • Gaetz is beneath extra strain than ever amid information that his affiliate Joel Greenberg is near a plea deal.

  • Greenberg’s potential cooperation means somebody Gaetz might have conspired with “is now working with the government,” stated an ex-FBI agent.

  • Greenberg could make clear Gaetz’s intent, which is essential to constructing a case in opposition to him.

  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has been in sizzling water since The New York Times revealed the existence of a Justice Department investigation into whether or not he had intercourse with a minor and broke federal intercourse trafficking legal guidelines.

On Thursday, the strain on Gaetz shot up one other notch after attorneys representing Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector who was indicted as a part of the investigation, informed a decide that Greenberg is near accepting a plea deal.

It’s a seismic growth that spells hassle for Gaetz, whose friendship with Greenberg dates back to at least 2017. Both males grew up in wealthy Florida circles and shared related pursuits, and Greenberg even told BuzzFeed News in 2018 that he thought-about Gaetz a mentor.

It’s unclear what the phrases of his plea deal will be; an settlement hasn’t been formalized yet, and the stipulations can vary from a defendant pleading responsible however refusing to disclose details about different targets, to pleading responsible and agreeing to cooperate, which might get them extra leniency when sentencing approaches.

Either approach, regulation enforcement veterans stated, it places Gaetz in a extremely unenviable place.

“Doesn’t bode well that his friend and alleged partner in crime just took a plea deal,” stated Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Justice Department.

“What Gaetz would be concerned about is if there’s a cooperation agreement in this matter that involves the defendant flipping on him,” stated Sherine Ebadi, a former FBI agent who served as the lead agent in the authorities’s case in opposition to ex-Trump marketing campaign chairman Paul Manafort. “That gets scary for co-conspirators, because they know someone who’s either aware of their crimes or someone they co-conspired with is now working with the government.”

Others echoed that evaluation.

“Simply put: as a prosecutor you’re not flipping Greenberg unless he gives you Gaetz,” wrote Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor from the Southern District of New York.

The Florida lawmaker has not been charged with any crimes, and he is fervently denied the allegations in opposition to him, claiming the division’s investigation is a part of an elaborate extortion scheme focusing on his household. A spokesperson for Gaetz didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

Greenberg’s legal professional makes an uncommon assertion

Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, appeared to trace at a cooperation settlement on Thursday, telling reporters after a court hearing, “I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.”

That stated, it is uncommon for prosecutors or protection attorneys to publicize the existence of a plea deal, as a result of they’d wish to keep away from tipping off different targets.

“It’s certainly an interesting statement,” Ebadi stated of Scheller’s feedback. “It makes you wonder what the motive was behind saying that.”

She added that she’d dealt with circumstances in which cooperators “tried to work both sides” as a result of “they know they have leverage against someone, and they want to try and broker some sort of deal to not cooperate.”

“I don’t know if [Scheller’s] foreshadowing, I don’t know what the motive would be because generally cooperators don’t want people to know they’re cooperating,” Ebadi stated. “But maybe that buck has passed because this case has been so publicly talked about, that there will be a plea agreement in this case.”

When coping with cooperating witnesses, prosecutors additionally keep in mind the particular person’s credibility as a result of “now you’re dealing with someone who already admitted to a crime and is motivated to tell you what you want to hear because it benefits them by potentially reducing their sentence,” Ebadi stated.

To vet the info they get, investigators dig for paperwork, monetary information, and digital filings to corroborate a cooperating witness’ testimony.

Former Justice Department officers stated that this case, in explicit, might not be a tricky one to crack.

Gaetz and Greenberg left investigators an enormous pile of breadcrumbs

Gaetz is suspected of getting had a sexual relationship with a girl who was 17 years outdated in 2019. Investigators are additionally analyzing whether or not he paid for her to journey throughout state strains, and broke intercourse trafficking legal guidelines by doing so. The inquiry is trying into if the Florida lawmaker used marketing campaign cash to fund journey for ladies, and The Times reported that investigators are scrutinizing Gaetz and Greenberg’s interactions with “multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments.”

CBS News reported that prosecutors are additionally zeroing in on a visit Gaetz took to the Bahamas in late 2018 or early 2019 with a hand surgeon and marijuana entrepreneur who allegedly footed the invoice for feminine escorts, lodge rooms, and journey bills. On Thursday, The Daily Beast reported that Gaetz sent Greenberg $900 via Venmo in 2018, and that Greenberg then despatched $900, in various quantities, to 3 younger ladies.

In different phrases, the two males doubtless left prosecutors an enormous pile of breadcrumbs to trace.

“The problem for the congressman is that anything involving travel with others always leaves behind a trail of documents and records,” stated Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Justice Department. “If he did travel with an underage girl while in a sexual relationship with her, records exist proving that.”

The lady Gaetz is suspected of getting a sexual relationship with would be 19 years outdated now and can also be prepared to speak to investigators, he added.

What Greenberg could inform prosecutors

Then there’s different info prosecutors would want to construct a powerful case, particulars they could not be in a position to glean from information and paperwork. That’s the place Greenberg comes in.

For one, he could have been aware about conversations in which solely he and Gaetz have been current, or personal communications that befell on encrypted apps, in textual content messages that could have been deleted, or on a burner cellphone.

“There could be a number of things they did that the government may not have access to or doesn’t even know exist,” Ebadi stated.

But the largest factor he could communicate to, she added, is what Gaetz’s intent was when he allegedly engaged in the conduct that is now beneath scrutiny.

“Depending on what prosecutors charge, often an element in various cases is intent, or proving someone’s knowledge or willfulness when committing a crime,” Ebadi stated. With Greenberg, “you could have someone that was present when [Gaetz] was making statements like, ‘I’m going to do this,’ or ‘I’m doing this for these particular reasons. Those are crucial words in a case like this, especially when it comes to that element of intent.”

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