- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 8, 2021

Rep. Matt Gaetz’s legal woes deepened Thursday after an attorney for a political backer of the congressman indicated his client will cooperate with investigators probing sex-trafficking allegations against the Florida Republican.

Testimony from Joel Greenberg, a friend and supporter of Mr. Gaetz, could offer key details to Justice Department investigators looking into whether Mr. Gaetz broke trafficking laws or had sex with a 17-year-old girl.

“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Mr. Greenberg’s defense attorney Fritz Scheller, told reporters after a hearing in the case.

Mr. Gaetz has vehemently denied the accusations and he has not been charged with a crime. He says he is the victim of an extortion scheme.

Mr. Greenberg, the former Seminole County, Florida, tax collector, faces 33 criminal charges arising from a sex-trafficking investigation, including trafficking of a child, stalking, aggravated identity theft, and defrauding the pandemic-related Paycheck Protection Program.

Both Mr. Scheller and federal prosecutor Roger Handberg said a plea deal could be reached soon.

“I expect this case to be resolved with a plea,” Mr. Scheller told a federal judge in court in Florida on Thursday, adding it was not realistic for a plea to be resolved this month.

If a deal is reached, the government would likely drop at least some of the charges against Mr. Greenberg in exchange for his testimony against other defendants.

Mr. Gaetz was not mentioned during the hearing and has not been charged in the investigation, but the efforts to secure a plea deal suggest Mr. Greenberg will cooperate with investigators. Speaking with reporters after the event, Mr. Scheller remained vague about whether his client has already offered up information about the congressman to lawmakers.

“He’s uniquely positioned,” the defense lawyer.

Earlier this week, Politico reported that Mr. Gaetz introduced Mr. Greenberg to women he found through a website for women seeking “sugar daddy” relationships with wealthy men.

Mr. Gaetz denied the claim, telling Politico that he has never paid for sex.

Also on Thursday, a group of female staffers issued a statement in support of the embattled congressman. Saying they were “morally obligated” to speak out, the women fiercely defended Mr. Gaetz.

“Congressman Gaetz has always been a principled and morally grounded leader,” the statement said. “At no time has any one of us experienced or witnessed anything less than the utmost professionalism and respect. No hint of impropriety. No ounce of truthfulness.

“On every occasion, he has treated each and every one of us with respect. Thus we uniformly reject these allegations as false,” the statement continued.

One day earlier, CBS News reported that investigators also are looking into a Bahamas trip Mr. Gaetz allegedly took in late 2018 or early 2019 with Jason Pirozzolo, a marijuana entrepreneur and hand surgeon, who paid for travel expenses, accommodations and female escorts.

A spokesman for the congressman slammed those reports.   

“What began with blaring headlines about ‘sex trafficking’ has now turned into a general fishing exercise about vacations and consensual relationships with adults,” the spokesman told CBS News.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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