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HomeNewsThe Justice Department's sex trafficking investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz seems stalled,...

The Justice Department’s sex trafficking investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz seems stalled, attorneys say

The FBI seized Rep. Matt Gaetz’s cellphone in December 2020, marking the start of an investigation into whether or not the Florida Republican allegedly sex-trafficked a 17-year-old woman. Within the time since, his former good friend Joel Greenberg pleaded responsible to trafficking the identical teen in alternate for serving to the Justice Division’s investigation. Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend additionally struck a deal, acquiring immunity from federal prosecution in return for her testimony.

However the sex-trafficking investigation into Gaetz now seems stalled, in response to seven attorneys who characterize witnesses, individuals who have been subpoenaed or have spoken to investigators. The attorneys briefed on points of the case say federal investigators seem stymied by considerations concerning the credibility of two key witnesses or a scarcity of direct proof implicating Gaetz, who has denied all wrongdoing.

Doubts about prosecuting Gaetz have mounted for months amongst lots of these seven attorneys. It’s additionally an opinion held by some throughout the DOJ, in response to a current Washington Submit article. Citing folks accustomed to the matter, the paper reported that profession prosecutors internally beneficial that Gaetz not be indicted.

Gaetz’s lawyer and the Division of Justice declined to remark. Gaetz himself has lengthy denied allegations that he had intercourse with a minor, that he ever transported the alleged sufferer throughout state traces to have interaction in prostitution or that he obstructed justice in an effort to cowl up his actions — the three fundamental potential crimes he has been investigated for, in response to three sources accustomed to these points of the case. 

“At a federal stage, I couldn’t ever think about prosecuting a case the place you may have a documented liar like Greenberg and this different individual as your prime witnesses,” stated Richard Hornsby, an lawyer for former state Rep. Chris Dorworth, who was subpoenaed within the case.

Whereas the sex-trafficking case seems stalled within the eyes of attorneys like Hornsby, one other lawyer concerned within the investigation identified that “the Justice Division hasn’t formally closed this case.” That lawyer, like others who spoke anonymously, didn’t wish to touch upon the file because of the delicate nature of the case. 

The case is undoubtedly complicated — one of many attorneys described it as having “tentacles” — and politically fraught. It additionally touches on systemic authorized points such because the expectation amongst some prosecutors and juries that ladies concerned in intercourse crimes investigations may be held to a better, and unfair, normal. 

Former Seminole County, Florida, tax collector Joel Greenberg talks to the Orlando Sentinel in September 2019, throughout an interview at his workplace in Lake Mary, Fla.Joe Burbank / Orlando Sentinel by way of Getty Photographs file

The prosecution’s star witness — Greenberg, Gaetz’s onetime good friend and a disgraced elected tax official — pleaded responsible final yr to 6 federal crimes. These included a stalking cost for falsely smearing a political rival as a pedophile, identification theft and intercourse trafficking the identical 17 yr previous who’s the alleged sufferer within the Gaetz case. A prosecutor within the case has labeled Greenberg a “prolific legal.”

The alleged sufferer has been reluctant to talk to federal investigators about whether or not she had intercourse with Gaetz in 2017, when she was 17, in response to a supply briefed within the case and a message Greenberg despatched to a mutual good friend of his and Gaetz’s, Dorworth, when the investigation gained steam in 2020. 

The alleged sufferer, who turned 18 in December 2017, didn’t reply requests for remark from NBC Information.

One other complication for prosecutors includes the alleged sufferer. She at present makes on-line pornography, which might set off biases in jurors if the case had been ever dropped at trial, in response to Barbara Martinez, a former assistant U.S. lawyer who oversaw sex-trafficking instances in South Florida however will not be related to the Gaetz investigation. 

Martinez, who spoke typically about sex-crimes prosecutions and never the specifics of the Gaetz investigation, advised NBC Information that sex-crimes instances can contain witnesses or alleged victims who’re concerned in intercourse work or have a legal historical past. 

“Many victims of trafficking have credibility points as a result of they’ve had a troublesome life, been arrested, and/or suffered from different trauma. And albeit, that’s why they’re usually focused and victimized by traffickers,” stated Martinez. 

Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, referring to the report that prosecutors might not transfer ahead in a case in opposition to Gaetz, advised NBC Information: “Whereas one might hesitate to attract a conclusion from a single information story, my hesitation stems from a special supply — my information of the proof on this matter.  However to be completely cryptic, to the extent the federal government considers this matter closed, I don’t.” 

He didn’t present additional particulars.

The ‘Wingman’ 

Joel Greenberg’s scandal-plagued time period because the elected tax collector of Seminole County started in 2017, across the similar time he and Gaetz turned shut. Each males had been elected to their respective places of work in the identical yr, and Gaetz at one level known as Greenberg his “wingman.”

Each gained reputations as newsmakers, with Gaetz defending newly elected President Donald Trump on the nationwide stage and Greenberg making waves at dwelling. 

Quickly after Greenberg took workplace, he turned the topic of criticism from county commissioners for a transfer to an costly new workplace constructing, whereas additionally coming below scrutiny for a proposal to arm tax collectors and for chastising a driver about her rushing whereas carrying a badge that made him look like a regulation enforcement officer.

In keeping with the plea settlement in his federal case, Greenberg met the minor in 2017 on a web site that marketed itself as a spot the place ‘“sugar daddies’ might discover ‘sugar infants,’” which 5 sources recognized as SeekingArrangement. Greenberg additionally admitted in his plea settlement that he gave the minor and “others” ecstasy for “industrial intercourse,” that he launched the minor to different males, and that he took the drug himself. In complete, the plea settlement stated, Greenberg from 2016 to 2018 made at the least 150 transactions for intercourse price $70,000, together with industrial intercourse acts with the minor.

Gaetz, who was not named within the plea settlement, met the alleged sufferer via Greenberg, in response to 4 sources who had been mates with each males. 

NBC Information is withholding the names of all the ladies to guard their privateness because of the nature of the case. SeekingArrangement has not commented on Greenberg, citing the continuing investigation. The positioning has stated it has no file of Gaetz ever having an account; Gaetz has lengthy maintained he was not on the location.

Additionally in response to that plea settlement, the alleged sufferer falsely claimed she was of age on her SeekingArrangement profile. Greenberg found her actual age in September 2017, 5 months after he first texted along with her.

Even when an underage individual lies about his or her age, it’s nonetheless legally thought of intercourse trafficking of a minor if an grownup has intercourse with them and one thing of worth modifications fingers.

In late 2019, a faculty instructor, Brian Beute, filed to run in a Republican major in opposition to the first-term tax collector, who responded by participating in a smear marketing campaign. Greenberg created a faux Twitter account to make Beute seem like a white supremacist, and Greenberg made a phony Fb account and engaged in a false letter-writing marketing campaign to border Beute as a pedophile who abused his college students, in response to the indictment and plea settlement.

Former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg
Former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg leaves the federal courthouse in Orlando, Fla., after making a primary look following his indictment on a federal stalking cost, on June 23, 2020.Joe Burbank / Orlando Sentinel by way of Getty Photographs file

In June 2020, Greenberg was arrested for the smears, precipitating a sequence of investigations and indictments that finally led to a 33-count indictment in opposition to him. The intercourse crimes inquiry into Gaetz started as a part of the broader investigation into Greenberg. 

In December 2020, the FBI seized the congressman’s cellphone and the congressman subsequently furnished federal investigators 1000’s of information, primarily associated to journey calendars and emails, in response to a supply. Gaetz reportedly lobbied former President Trump’s prime aides for a pardon associated to the Justice Division’s investigation towards the top of the administration.

The Gaetz investigation turned public in March 2021, after The New York Occasions reported the final contours of the investigation. Earlier that month, Greenberg had been jailed after he violated probation to seek out his spouse, who known as 911 as a result of she wished to get away from him. They’re now divorced. 

Greenberg now faces a mandatory-minimum jail sentence of 12 years. However in an effort to get a extra lenient sentence, Greenberg pleaded responsible and has been cooperating with prosecutors. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 1.

In April 2021, CBS Information reported that along with investigating Gaetz for alleged intercourse trafficking of a minor, federal investigators had been analyzing a Bahamas journey he took within the fall of 2018 to see if it violated the Mann Act, which prohibits taking folks throughout state traces to have interaction in prostitution. Two sources briefed on that facet of the investigation confirmed that line of inquiry.

The alleged sufferer, who by that point was 18, Gaetz and others had been on the journey, in response to Politico, which cited three sources accustomed to the Bahamas jaunt, together with one who was there. Prosecutors wished to know if any of the ladies on the journey had been paid for intercourse and, subsequently, had been transported throughout state traces to have interaction in prostitution. 

The investigation into Gaetz gained some momentum earlier this yr when his ex-girlfriend struck an immunity cope with prosecutors. Earlier than her look, a supply accustomed to her pondering advised NBC Information she was keen to testify about Gaetz’s interactions with the alleged sufferer, that 2018 journey to the Bahamas, and a secretly recorded cellphone name between her, a former roommate of the alleged sufferer and Gaetz. It’s throughout that dialog that federal investigators suspected Gaetz of making an attempt to impede justice, NBC Information beforehand reported.

Since that point, seven others tied to Greenberg have been charged in a bunch of different crimes unrelated to the sex-crimes investigation: two in fraud schemes which can be associated to Greenberg’s workplace, two associates of Greenberg’s in an alleged actual property rip-off, and three with marketing campaign finance-related crimes. No less than another good friend of Greenberg’s is probably going going through federal fraud fees, in response to Greenberg’s fourth and last indictment issued March 30, 2021. None of these indictments present a hyperlink to Gaetz or recommend his involvement. 

All the fees and investigations involving Greenberg had been the results of the instructor’s good friend, lawyer David Bear, insisting that regulation enforcement authorities severely examine the smears masterminded by Greenberg within the 2020 major for tax collector.

Bear stated it sounds “completely believable” that prosecutors won’t cost Gaetz.

“The U.S. lawyer’s workplace and Division of Justice are very explicit in what they prosecute and in ensuring there’s a robust likelihood they may win the case,” he advised NBC Information. “They don’t prosecute 50/50 instances.”

Bear is a critic of Gaetz and says he bears accountability for associating with Greenberg. However he stated Greenberg’s criminality is problematic. 

“Greenberg is a prolific legal. His story goes to be in criminology textbooks someday,” Bear stated. 

The potential witnesses within the federal authorities’s inquiry into Gaetz will not be restricted to Greenberg, the alleged sufferer and Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend.

The alleged sufferer’s former roommate, who was on the three-way name with Gaetz and his ex-girlfriend, has spoken to prosecutors, in response to two legal professionals concerned within the case. They are saying that at the least one different girl who had been sexually concerned with Gaetz has additionally spoken to investigators.

Not one of the ladies have been charged with a criminal offense, however legal professionals within the case are divided over whether or not a number of the ladies may very well be charged with sex-trafficking the alleged sufferer, too, if proof emerged they engaged in group intercourse along with her.

Below the federal sex-trafficking regulation, anybody who has intercourse with a minor as a part of an enterprise through which cash modifications fingers may be criminally charged. The attorneys say that the federal authorities has expressed no real interest in charging any of the ladies, however they are saying it might develop into a problem at trial if the ladies had been ever used as witnesses.

‘That is Joel’s M.O.’ 

After Greenberg’s first arrest in June 2020, he tried to get Gaetz and Republican operative and Trump confidante Roger Stone to get him an election-year pardon, Stone stated in an interview, confirming a Each day Beast article. 

Gaetz’s good friend, Dorworth, stated Greenberg threatened to deliver him and Gaetz down if he didn’t get the pardon. Dorworth, who was subpoenaed to offer information to the federal grand jury within the case, stated Greenberg falsely accused him of wrongdoing and, to disprove the allegations, he wound up hiring a lawyer, furnishing textual content, cellphone and journey information to federal investigators, in addition to three polygraphs. His lawyer, Hornsby, confirmed the account.

“I’m not shocked prosecutors received’t transfer ahead with the case in opposition to Matt as a result of it’s constructed on lies and Joel Greenberg is the largest piece of mendacity rubbish trash I’ve ever seen in my life,” Dorworth advised NBC Information, previewing what can be his testimony for Gaetz’s protection if he had been ever charged.

“That is Joel’s M.O.: He tries to border folks for what he did.”

Scheller, Greenberg’s lawyer, stated in response to Dorworth’s allegations: “In any case, the credibility of witnesses is at all times at situation. Thus, any prosecutor price their salt will develop proof, together with paperwork and monetary information, that corroborates the testimony of the witness. Though I’ve not obtained any communication from the federal authorities concerning the standing of its investigation (nor would I), it doesn’t merely depend upon a few witnesses, not to mention a single particular person.”

Dorworth stated he felt Greenberg tried to set him up within the sex-crimes investigation with a sequence of WhatsApp message exchanges shortly earlier than Greenberg was first charged with intercourse trafficking the minor, in response to his third, penultimate indictment in August 2020. Dorworth shared the messages with the FBI and with NBC Information.

From left, Chris Dorworth, Rep. Matt Gaetz and then-Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg pose together outside the White House during a visit in 2019.
From left, Chris Dorworth, Rep. Matt Gaetz and then-Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg pose collectively exterior the White Home throughout a go to in 2019.Orlando Sentinel by way of Getty Photographs file

Within the messages, Greenberg instructed Dorworth had culpability and instructed that one other lawyer advised him that Dorworth might have a lawyer. However Dorworth checked with that lawyer, who Dorworth says advised him that he by no means stated Dorworth wanted to get a lawyer.

Greenberg additionally stated he wished to warn Dorworth that “some chick” might say “she partied at your own home or one thing.” Dorworth responded by saying that didn’t occur.

The messages present Greenberg stated he was paying for the lawyer for the minor whom he later pleaded responsible to trafficking and stated that “she doesn’t wish to discuss to” the FBI. Additionally, Greenberg stated, the “hyperlink” between himself and the minor was cash he paid her by way of a banking app.

“The feds are going via my Venmo historical past,” Greenberg stated.

Dorworth has not been charged with a criminal offense.

Greenberg’s Venmo might play a vital function in a prosecution. In a so-called “confession letter” obtained by The Each day Beast, Greenberg wrote there was no direct fee between Gaetz and the 17-year-old. As a substitute, he wrote, he was the go-between who collected the money.

A supply who had been briefed on points of the investigation advised NBC Information that investigators had mentioned a weak spot within the case: there is no such thing as a direct proof of fee between Gaetz and the alleged sufferer and that prosecutors subsequently needed to depend on testimony from witnesses like Greenberg, who may very well be seen a much less credible by a jury.  

‘The king elephant’

Lyle Mazin, an lawyer who represents two ladies who’re additionally potential witnesses of the investigation, stated it has so many “tentacles,” complexities and legal professionals that it’s arduous to get a world perspective of the case. However, he stated, the sensation “amongst the attorneys appears to be it’s not going anyplace.”

Mazin stated he believes prime Justice Division officers may very well be involved concerning the political ramifications of going after Gaetz and Trump, who will not be related to this case however is below different federal investigations in regards to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and the alleged possession and improper storage of paperwork associated to nationwide safety.

Prosecutors most likely can’t afford a not responsible verdict in opposition to Gaetz, he stated, or a hung jury.

“To me, what leans me to pondering that is lifeless within the water is that DOJ finally goes to go after Donald Trump,” Mazin stated. “They [prosecutors] can’t put their foot over the road and get it chopped off … in the event that they parade their circus of witnesses in there — even when it’s a superbly good case and it’s a statutorily severe crime — I feel they damage themselves. I feel they’re going after the king elephant.”

One other lawyer within the case stated the Justice Division is conscious of the political problems across the investigation. 

Martinez, the previous assistant U.S. lawyer, stated that pursuing a “high-profile goal” might additional complicate the case as a result of prosecutors weigh the chance of conviction whereas deciding whether or not they need to deliver fees. 

“A sufferer’s troublesome previous alone will not be a purpose for a prosecution to not proceed. In actual fact, prosecutors have obtained convictions following trials in such instances,” she stated, stressing she was not particularly addressing Gaetz’s investigation. “However once you’re the one sufferer in a case, it may very well be rather more troublesome to get a conviction and it may very well be a lot tougher on the sufferer. As a former federal prosecutor, I needed to decline some instances through which I believed the crime occurred however we decided that we merely couldn’t current a reputable case.”

Gaetz has attacked the Justice Division for not doing extra to prosecute alleged co-conspirators who tried to shake down his rich father, former state Senate president Don Gaetz, for $25 million in return for securing a presidential pardon of the congressman within the intercourse crimes investigation. Gaetz’s father went to the FBI and wore a wire to catch the suspects — considered one of whom has since pleaded responsible.

And if Home Republicans win management of the chamber in November and make good on their promise to analyze the company for its varied investigations of Trump.

A Trump-appointed decide “might let the Gaetz protection flip right into a circus as a result of the sufferer’s previous would come out in courtroom,” the lawyer stated. “DOJ will fake it’s not contemplating all of this along with the proof. However you may wager they’re.”

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