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‘Prolific criminal’: Gaetz’s old wingman gets more time to help prosecutors

ORLANDO, Fla. — A corrupt former Florida tax official and one-time “wingman” to Rep. Matt Gaetz won extra time Monday to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their investigation of the congressman and a host of other scandals.

Joel Greenberg was set to be sentenced on Nov. 18 for six crimes he pleaded guilty to earlier this year, but prosecutors successfully implored U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell to wait until March so they can track down all of the leads Greenberg has given to investigators.

“Mr. Greenberg was a prolific criminal,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg said in open court.

“Mr. Greenberg was not alone. This is an unusual situation in the number of different investigations and lines of investigation we are pursuing,” Handberg said, adding that the extra time was required “because of the need to follow up on some of these leads.”

The biggest prize for federal prosecutors is Gaetz, who was not mentioned in court Monday and is under investigation on suspicion he paid to have sex with a 17-year-old girl to whom Greenberg had introduced him in 2017.

The investigation into Gaetz has stretched on since November and became public this spring amid predictions of an imminent indictment for the congressman that never came to pass. The March sentencing date for Greenberg — the former Seminole County tax collector — sets a new time horizon for when Gaetz might be charged, if at all.

Indictments of sitting congressmen are usually approved by the attorney general, and the Justice Department often tries to avoid pressing criminal charges in the heat of an election. The Florida primaries are Aug. 23; Gaetz has two Republican opponents. A Gaetz spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Greenberg has pleaded guilty to sex-trafficking the 17-year-old teen, who is now an adult. Gaetz has denied all charges and has repeatedly pointed out that Greenberg is guilty of that crime and also admitted to falsely smearing a political rival as a pedophile.

Sex-trafficking a minor isn’t the only potential charge Gaetz faces.

Prosecutors have been looking at a 2018 Bahamas trip Gaetz was on to see if the congressman and two political allies violated the Mann Act, which forbids taking people across state lines to engage in prostitution. Greenberg wasn’t on that trip, but the victim of his sex trafficking was, though at that point she had turned 18. Gaetz previously said he never paid for sex.

Gaetz is also being investigated over whether he obstructed justice when he called an ex-girlfriend and another potential witness in the case and discussed it with them. Gaetz, a lawyer, has denied obstructing justice. The ex-girlfriend is seeking an immunity deal from prosecutors in return for her testimony. POLITICO is not naming her or the other women in the case to respect their privacy.

Gaetz isn’t the only suspect in the blast radius of Greenberg’s crimes and his attempt to get a lesser sentence in exchange for his cooperation. He faces a mandatory-minimum sentence of 12 years for six separate crimes he pleaded guilty to: sex trafficking a minor, stalking a political rival, identity theft, defrauding local taxpayers in a cryptocurrency scheme and bribing a Small Business Administration employee to illegally receive federal Covid-relief money. Prosecutors on Monday hinted that Greenberg’s case has ensnared multiple people and led to several lines of investigation.

One of the co-conspirators in that Covid-relief scheme, a one-time mortgage broker named Nabil Dajani, is expected to be charged as a result of the crime, three people familiar with the matter told POLITICO. Dajani declined to comment in detail when contacted Monday.

A longtime friend of Greenberg’s named Joe Ellicott is under investigation on suspicion of sex-trafficking the 17-year-old in 2017, according to previous reporting. He has refused comment. According to other reporting, former friend of Greenberg’s, Chris Dorworth, was interviewed by federal prosecutors about whether he was involved in a scheme to recruit a so-called “ghost candidate” in a state senate race, which he denied.

Two other men tied to Gaetz, former Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears and former Orlando Aviation Authority member Jason Pirozzolo, are facing investigations connected to their travel to the Bahamas with Gaetz, as POLITICO previously reported.

In court on Monday, Greenberg lawyer Fritz Scheller said Greenberg needed more time to help prosecutors and is “on a path of rehabilitation and, to a lesser extent, redemption.” He also said Greenberg’s information is “a way to mitigate the severity of Mr. Greenberg’s case… make amends.”

The judge replied by noting that Greenberg was getting something out of his testimony: “Well, it’s a way to mitigate his sentence.”

Presnell, noting that much of the investigation needs to be confidential, said he still needed a sense for “why we need a year to sentence someone,” considering the fact that Greenberg pleaded guilty in May. He said he’ll sentence Greenberg at sometime in March, and “this is now a deadline that we’re going to have to meet.”

The prosecutor, Handberg, indicated the information Greenberg has been given has been helpful and sometimes “unexpected.” But it takes time.

“The investigators in this case have followed the evidence where it takes them,” Handberg said. “This is obviously not a normal situation.”

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