The Florida man who helped bring down Joel Greenberg, the convicted sex trafficker and former “wingman” of Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, still expresses a sense of bewilderment that he was the victim at the center of a high-profile federal investigation that’s still unfolding.
“I’m just a guy in a small, little local community,” Brian Beute told The Washington Times. “I’m no expert, but there’s something else going on. I think there’s much more going on behind the scenes.”
Mr. Beute, 47, a lifelong Republican, is a prep school music teacher who decided to run for tax collector in Seminole County last year. It was his first bid for public office.
Greenberg was the incumbent tax collector in Seminole County, northeast of Orlando. Despite higher name recognition and far greater personal wealth than his primary opponent, Greenberg embarked on a smear campaign against Mr. Beute’s character.
The federal indictment against Greenberg charged that he created a fake Twitter account and used Mr. Beute’s identity to post messages that espoused support for segregation and White supremacy. He also opened a Facebook account using the identity of another teacher at Mr. Beute’s prep school to falsely accuse Mr. Beute of sexual misconduct with a male student.
Working with an attorney, Mr. Beute fought back and contacted law enforcement.
Investigators eventually traced some of the online attacks to an IP address at Greenberg’s home. They also found Greenberg’s fingerprints on an envelope used in an attempt to smear Mr. Beute via mail.
That probe expanded into a 33-count federal indictment charging Greenberg with, among other crimes, sex trafficking of a minor, accessing personal information to engage in “sugar daddy” relationships with minors, and diverting $400,000 in public funds to his personal bank account.
Greenberg pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to six charges, including wire fraud, and is reportedly cooperating with prosecutors as part of his plea deal. That could spell trouble for Mr. Gaetz, Florida Republican, in the investigation into whether he paid women or offered gifts in exchange for sex and whether one of them was underage.
Mr. Gaetz, a loyal ally of former President Donald Trump, has not been charged with any crimes and denies any wrongdoing. He has resisted calls to give up his House seat.
Greenberg and Mr. Gaetz, both from wealthy Florida families, shared fervent support for Mr. Trump and an interest in cryptocurrency. They partied together frequently.
Greenberg’s attorney, Fritz Scheller, said his client will honor his plea agreement if prosecutors seek information from him about Mr. Gaetz.
“Does my client have information that could hurt an elected official? I guess this is just, you know, must-see television. You’ll just have to wait and see,” Mr. Scheller told reporters Monday.
Mr. Beute’s attorney, David Bear, said he thinks Greenberg is cooperating with the probe.
“I am completely confident Joel is providing substantial assistance for very important players throughout the community who are committing crimes and think they can get away with it because they are powerful and wealthy. And hopefully, they won’t anymore,” he said.
Mr. Beute said he doesn’t know Mr. Gaetz and doesn’t know whether Greenberg has turned against the lawmaker. Prosecutors haven’t told him anything.
“I don’t know anything about Gaetz. I’ve never met the guy,” he said.
He said his experience makes him wonder “who else might have given the perpetrator these ideas” to attack him so viciously.
“Maybe we’ll find out,” he said. “This [plea agreement] is an awfully sweet deal. If at the end we don’t see fruit, I’ll probably struggle a little bit with that.”
Mr. Beute said he suspects Greenberg had help with his exploits. He mentioned, in particular, Jacob Engels, a conservative blogger in central Florida and associate of longtime Republican operative Roger Stone.
In June 2020, Mr. Engels posted two Facebook Live videos attacking Mr. Beute. Mr. Engels accused “creepy Brian Beute” of being “mentally ill” and preying on students sexually as their music teacher.
“Creepy Brian Beute, who was involved in some tromboning incident over at Trinity Prep as a teacher, tromboning, you know we don’t know what he was tromboning, but we heard there was a tromboning incident,” Mr. Engels said in a video released on June 20.
The videos were removed when Facebook banned Mr. Engels’ accounts but not before the video files were provided to Mediaite, which posted them in its reporting of the case.
Mr. Engels, who has called Mr. Stone his mentor, said his Central Florida Post publication “scrutinized Brian Beute‘s work history as we do with every candidate for public office.”
“His allegations against me are unfounded and untrue,” Mr. Engels said in a lengthy statement to The Washington Times. “The fact that he has not brought civil action against the Central Florida Post or myself speaks volumes. He ran for public office, and it is the job of journalists to scrutinize those who seek to represent us.”
He said his publication has “broken countless stories that the mainstream media refuse to cover and have consistently been proven to be accurate in our reporting, despite attacks from the legacy media and alleged ‘fact-checking’ websites that routinely smear independent or alternative media outlets while not scrutinizing blatant falsehoods from organizations like Washington Post or CNN.”
Mr. Stone is a longtime confidant of Mr. Trump who received a pardon from him last year on a conviction for lying to Congress and witness tampering.
Greenberg reportedly asked Mr. Stone last year to obtain a pardon for him from Mr. Trump.
“Greenberg obviously committed crimes,” Mr. Beute said. “But I do wonder if he was used by people with more money or people in higher stature. We’re all responsible for ourselves, but I do wonder if there’s a sort of a ‘showing off’ to the big boys, so to speak. And that’s why I say I think there’s much more going on behind the scenes.”
He said “opportunists” are ruining the political system.
“They’re fully, knowingly using the American people as pawns, using our culture as a play toy,” Mr. Beute said. “I’m not a conspiracy theorist. It’s what I see. And it’s what other people see too, and that’s why they shut down. That’s why regular people shut down. They want nothing to do with it anymore.”
Given the level of Greenberg’s corruption over four years, Mr. Beute has criticized lax state oversight of county tax collectors and called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to take action.
“It’s a great opportunity for the governor, who appears to have leadership abilities, to tackle this,” he said. “I mean, let’s not hide from it.”
Mr. Beute didn’t win the Republican primary last year, even after Greenberg was arrested and resigned from office. Republican J.R. Kroll defeated Mr. Beute in the primary and went on to win the general election to become the county’s tax collector.
Married with two daughters, Mr. Beute said the successful prosecution of Greenberg has given him and his family “freedom.”
“The ramifications and the mind games that go on after being accused of something egregious — it’s not like I was accused of speeding,” he said. “This attacked the core of me. It’s your character.”
He is writing a book about his experience. Despite what happened, he said, he wants to spread the message that more ordinary Americans need to get involved in democracy.
“That’s my message to the American people: We’ve got to stop the apathy, we’ve got to start acting,” Mr. Beute said. “I don’t know what that means. I’m no expert on this. But if I can be a part of jump-starting 210 million adult Americans over the age of 18 getting involved, then I feel like I did my duty.”