Career prosecutors have recommended not indicting Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) in a longstanding sex trafficking investigation — telling Justice Department superiors a conviction is unlikely in part due credibility issues with the two central witnesses, according to people familiar with the matter.
Senior department officials have not made a final decision on whether to charge Gaetz, but it is rare for such advice to be dismissed, these people said. The Washington Post, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations. They added that it is always possible that additional evidence will emerge that could alter prosecutors’ understanding of the case.
Still, federal authorities are unlikely to charge Gaetz with a crime in an investigation that began in late 2020 and focused on his alleged involvement with a 17-year-old girl several years earlier. Gaetz, 40, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, saying he never paid for sex. He also said the only time he had sex with a 17-year-old was when he was also 17.
Gaetz’s attorney, Isabelle Kirshner, declined to comment. A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.
Investigators have been looking into whether the congressman paid for sex in violation of federal sex trafficking laws and looked into his relationship with the 17-year-old, people familiar with the matter said. Earlier this year, a federal grand jury in Orlando heard testimony from associates of Gaetz, including an ex-girlfriend.
The ex-girlfriend was among several women on a trip Gaetz allegedly took to the Bahamas in 2018 that was of particular interest to investigators. The 17-year-old involved in the investigation was also traveling, although by then she was already 18 or older, people familiar with the matter said. She was a central witness in the investigation, but people familiar with the case said she was one of two people whose testimony posed problems that veteran prosecutors say would not stand up to a jury. .
The other is a former friend of Gaetz’s, Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector from Seminole County, Florida. He pleaded guilty last year to sex trafficking a minor and a host of other crimes under a co-operation agreement with authorities.
Greenberg was first charged in 2020 with fabricating allegations and evidence to smear a political opponent, but prosecutors continued to investigate and added additional charges to his case. He eventually agreed to plead guilty to six criminal charges, including child sex trafficking, aggravated identity theft and wire fraud.
In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the other 27 counts Greenberg faced and recommend a sentence within federal sentencing guidelines, which are often far below the maximum legal penalties. They also agreed to recommend other possible breaks.
If Greenberg has provided “substantial assistance” in building other cases, prosecutors could ask a judge to deviate from the required minimum sentence, according to Greenberg’s plea agreement. His sentencing is scheduled for later this year.
It was while exploring Greenberg’s conduct that investigators uncovered evidence potentially implicating Gaetz in sex trafficking, people familiar with the matter said. Prosecutors were looking into whether Greenberg was paying women to have sex with Gaetz and whether the two sex partners were sharing, including the 17-year-old girl involved in the Greenberg case, those people said.
Gaetz, who represents a predominantly conservative district in Florida’s begging, is known as a staunch defender of former President Donald Trump. The investigation into him was opened during the Trump administration and was approved by then-Attorney General William P. Barr.
Greenberg has been providing investigators with information about Gaetz for the past year, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Greenberg’s credibility would be a significant challenge to any prosecution of Gaetz, in part because one of the crimes Greenberg admitted was fabricating allegations against a teacher who came forward against him for being a tax collector. Greenberg had sent letters to the school falsely claiming the teacher had had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student – an allegation similar to the Gaetz case.
Greenberg also pleaded guilty to a host of other crimes, including robbing the tax collector’s office and defrauding a government loan program that provided relief to businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
David Bear, a lawyer for the falsely accused schoolteacher Greenberg, said last year that “no one will believe anything Joel Greenberg says on his own”.
The Gaetz case took a particularly bizarre turn when authorities accused a Florida business executive of trying to extort the congressman’s wealthy father as part of a scheme to secure a presidential pardon for young Gaetz amid the ongoing sex trafficking investigation.
Business executive Stephen M. Alford eventually pleaded guilty in 2021 to wire fraud. Authorities say he approached Gaetz’s father, Don Gaetz, saying he could ‘guarantee’ his son a pardon in the sex trafficking case, part of a convoluted $25million scheme which also involved an effort to find a long-missing former FBI agent. Instead of paying him, Don Gaetz went to the FBI and secretly taped the conversations.
Last week, The Washington Post reported that Gaetz told a former White House aide, John McEntee, that he was seeking a precautionary pardon from Trump shortly before Trump left office.
According to people familiar with McEntee’s testimony before the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, McEntee said Gaetz told him that even though he had done nothing wrong, “they’re trying to make his life hell, and you know, if the president could give him a pardon, that would be great.
Gaetz said he asked White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for forgiveness, McEntee said, according to those people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss his testimony.