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Gaetz associate said to be cooperating with prosecutors in investigation of the congressman

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), left, and former Seminole County, Fla., tax collector Joel Greenberg. (Photos by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post and Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/AP)

A Florida politician at the center of an investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz has provided federal law enforcement with information about the congressman’s activities as he seeks a plea deal to resolve his own legal woes, offering prosecutors potentially important testimony as they build a case against a higher-profile target, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector for Seminole County, Fla., has since last year been outlining to prosecutors how he and Gaetz would pay women for sex using cash or gifts in potential violation of federal trafficking laws, this person said on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing criminal probe.

Greenberg faces a 33-count indictment that includes a charge of sex trafficking of a child, and his attorney and a prosecutor in the case said at a court hearing last week that he was likely to plead guilty. If he decides to testify against Gaetz (R-Fla.), Greenberg could help prosecutors explain various financial transactions that have drawn attention to the congressman’s conduct — though Greenberg also would be likely to face significant questions about his credibility.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) first got involved in politics a decade ago. It didn't take him long to find stardom in the Republican Party. (Video: Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Gaetz, whose fierce allegiance to former president Donald Trump and frequent cable news appearances won praise from fellow conservatives, has not been accused of a crime and vehemently denies wrongdoing.

Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg likely to strike plea deal with prosecutors in sex trafficking case

Greenberg’s plea deal has not yet been finalized. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment Tuesday.

Greenberg attorney Fritz Scheller has repeatedly declined to answer questions about his client’s cooperation, first reported by the New York Times, though he hinted ominously after last week’s court hearing that Greenberg was “uniquely situated” to provide information about the congressman.

“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said at the time.

The Justice Department has been exploring whether Greenberg procured women for Gaetz, who represents a mostly conservative district in the Florida Panhandle, and whether the two men sometimes shared sexual partners, including the 17-year-old girl at issue in Greenberg’s case. Gaetz would boast to people in Florida politics that he met women through Greenberg, and he also showed them videos on his phone of naked or topless women on multiple occasions, including at parties with Greenberg, people familiar with the matter have said.

Like others, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation.

Gaetz is said to have boasted of his ‘access to women’ provided by friend charged in sex-trafficking case

It was in the course of investigating Greenberg on other suspected crimes that federal authorities discovered evidence of possible sex trafficking by Gaetz, people familiar with the matter have said. They then launched a separate investigation into the congressman.

Gaetz has denied that as an adult he had sex with a 17-year-old, or that he paid women for sex. Harlan Hill, a representative for Gaetz, repeated that denial in a statement Tuesday and pointed to a report in Politico about an anonymous friend of Greenberg’s allegedly complaining to him last year that Greenberg was trying to draw him into the matter.

“Congressman Gaetz has never paid for sex. Based on reporting from Politico, it seems Mr. Greenberg has been trying to ensnare innocent people in his troubles for quite some time,” Hill said, referring to news of Greenberg’s cooperation with law enforcement as a “non-story.”

Even if Greenberg does agree to cooperate, he could be a problematic witness, and Gaetz could challenge his credibility.

Greenberg was initially charged with fabricating allegations and evidence against a political opponent in the race for tax collector, and prosecutors have since accused him, in addition to the alleged sex crime, of wire fraud and submitting false claims to get an Economic Injury Disaster Loan while he was out of jail on bond.