Hmmm: Gaetz crony cuts deal with feds on six counts -- down from 33

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

What could this mean? As Business Insider suggests, Joel Greenberg’s plea deal with the Department of Justice might spell bad news for Matt Gaetz. Greenberg will plead guilty on six counts from an indictment that originally carried 33 charges — and will require his cooperation in other investigations.

Assuming Greenberg has any other information to share, that’s bad news for someone:

The former Florida county tax collector Joel Greenberg will plead guilty to six felony counts including sex trafficking, identity theft, and wire fraud, a significant downgrade from the 33 federal charges he was facing through multiple indictments, Insider has learned.

Greenberg is scheduled to appear in court Monday morning to formalize the plea agreement with Justice Department prosecutors, who are investigating whether he and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida violated federal sex-trafficking laws. A judge will have to sign off on the agreement before it is finalized. …

The plea deal is expected to include standard language that Greenberg must cooperate fully with the US government in his case and any other related matters. That could mean testifying in court or before a federal grand jury in the event of a trial. That could be bad news for Gaetz, a GOP congressman and Trump loyalist.

So what to make of this development? It’s been clear for a while that Greenberg and his attorneys were working for a plea deal. The reduction of the counts from 33 to six might indicate that Greenberg has found the right formula to satisfy the feds. It could also indicate that prosecutorial overcharging — which happens a lot in these cases — might have given way to reality.

Interestingly, it appears that Greenberg won’t face any charges relating to trafficking underage girls, which was the big headline in this case initially. That might have been dropped to get Greenberg’s cooperation, but there’s also been reporting that the young woman in question might not have been underage at the time of her alleged encounter with Gaetz. The lack of this charge in the plea deal seems interesting in some way, especially given the expectations raised in the reporting around the case.

Does this plea deal mean Gaetz should start worrying? Naah– he should have started worrying weeks ago. Greenberg and his attorneys might have just negotiated the indictments down on their own, and the DoJ might have decided to avoid the expense and resource drain of a long trial with a plea that would still result in significant prison time for Greenberg. As a former government official, Greenberg is a high-profile target on his own, after all. But the paper and money trails uncovered so far link Gaetz to Greenberg’s activities enough for investigators to pursue an even juicier target.

Greenberg’s attorney Fritz Scheller has certainly intimated that Gaetz will be next:

Greenberg, a county tax collector in Florida, faces charges including sex trafficking of a minor, stalking, wire fraud and identity theft. He pleaded not guilty to those charges, but his lawyer and prosecutors told a judge at a hearing last month that Greenberg was expected to strike a plea deal.

Greenberg’s lawyer Fritz Scheller told reporters after that hearing, “I’m sure Matt Gaetz isn’t feeling very comfortable today.”

Scheller later said, “You’ve seen the number of stories out there and the emphasis is on their relationship. Isn’t it obvious to assume that he would be concerned?”

Finally, though, let’s remember that Greenberg isn’t going to be a stellar witness for prosecutors. Greenberg tried to frame a political rival for Greenberg’s own personal benefit, the catalyst for the current investigation:

The missive arrived at an Orlando-area preparatory school in October 2019, outlining a damaging allegation against a music teacher there.

The teacher, in the letter’s telling, had had an inappropriate sexual relationship with the purported student who had written it. And the writer claimed to offer proof: private Facebook messages in which the teacher, Brian Beute, told his alleged victim: “Please remember to keep this a secret. I could go to jail.”

Beute, who had recently announced his candidacy in the local tax collector’s race, knew the allegation was a lie, as investigators quickly determined. But what he could not foresee is how the ploy to sabotage his run for local office would drag the seedy politics in Seminole County, Fla., into the national spotlight and put a U.S. congressman with close ties to former president Donald Trump in the crosshairs of a Justice Department investigation.

The allegations against Beute, federal investigators concluded, had been fabricated by his incumbent opponent, Joel Greenberg, in a bid to smear him. But when authorities arrested Greenberg and sifted through his electronic records and devices — according to documents and people involved in the case — they discovered a medley of other alleged wrongdoing, leading them to open an investigation of possible sex trafficking involving a far more high-profile Florida Republican: Rep. Matt Gaetz.

If Gaetz has reason to worry, and he does, then so do federal prosecutors hoping to use Greenberg to snare him. Needless to say, that goes straight to credibility for anything Greenberg provides in testimony. It might even make anything Greenberg provides in documentation suspect as well. Even a semi-competent defense attorney would destroy Greenberg on cross-examination with this record and cast doubt on all Greenberg-provided documentation.

Given that problem, prosecutors could be cutting a deal with Greenberg now simply to move on. Now that the plea deal has been cut, we should see soon enough which direction the DoJ will take.