ORLANDO, Fla. — Former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, a former associate of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, pleaded guilty in Orlando federal court to child sex trafficking and five other charges Monday morning after striking a deal with federal prosecutors.

What You Need To Know

He also pleaded guilty to illegally making false IDs, aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, stalking and federal conspiracy. The count of child sex trafficking carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. In addition to prison time and possible fines, he will owe restitution, U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Hoffman told him.

Sentencing should come within about 75 days, she said.

Unlike previous court hearings, Greenberg couldn’t waive his right to appear Monday.

He walked into the courtroom several minutes before his 10 a.m. hearing, handcuffed and wearing a light blue mask, a dark Orange County Jail T-shirt and a chain around his waist. He looked around the courtroom and nodded to someone in the media section.

Greenberg appeared relaxed, curious and alert.

Hoffman asked Greenberg numerous questions, making sure he fully understood the charges, what he was pleading guilty to, possible punishments and whether he knew he would have to register as a sex offender.

Greenberg generally answered questions with "I do," "I have," "I am," or "Yes." 

At one point, Hoffman asked, "Are you pleading guilty because you are guilty?"

"I am," Greenberg replied.

Greenberg's plea agreement was filed Friday in the U.S. Middle District of Florida in Orlando.

His case has brought scrutiny on Gaetz, R-Florida, amid reports that federal prosecutors were examining both over allegations they may have paid underaged girls for sex with money and gifts.

Gaetz has not been charged and has denied all allegations against him. A spokesperson on Friday issued a statement that said, “Congressman Gaetz has never had sex with a minor and has never paid for sex.”

The plea agreement stipulates that Greenberg will cooperate in any other related investigations and agree to testify in any prosecutorial proceedings. It also outlines that if Greenberg were to cooperate in the investigation of other people before he's sentenced, the government would take that into consideration.

After Monday's hearing, a reporter prefaced a question of Fritz Scheller, Greenberg's attorney, by saying that Greenberg was "still going to get at least 12 years in federal prison," prompting Scheller to respond, "Really? Just go back to the plea agreement." Scheller pointed out that under the agreement, Greenberg could serve less time than what federal guidelines stipulate.

Asked how many co-conspirators the case involved, Scheller said, "How about more than one?" Asked whether Greenberg had information that could hurt an elected official, he said, "I guess this is must-see television. You’ll just have to wait and see."

Scheller also said he has "had conversations with other attorneys" but wouldn't say who they represented.

Scheller declined to answer many questions, citing attorney-client privilege. He also showed moments of levity, as he often does, such as when a reporter told him that an aircraft was flying overhead and pulling a banner that said, "Tick Tock, Matt Gaetz."

"That was a setup," he said, smiling. "You made me look into the sun, and there's no 'tick tock' banner."

Monday’s court hearing included no mention of other suspects, possible suspects or persons of interest. No other names are mentioned in Greenberg's plea agreement, either.

Most of the hearing focused on the 86-page plea agreement filed in federal court on Friday. The proceedings were so meticulous that Hoffman, the magistrate judge, asked Greenberg to verify his initials on every page of his 86-page plea agreement. He said yes to all of them.

Hoffman also walked Greenberg through all possible punishments for each crime, including prison time, fines, forfeitures and financial reimbursements to his victims. 

For the sex-trafficking charge, he will have to register as a sex offender. Hoffman said that means he'll have to update authorities regularly about his address, possible future employer and potential attendance in educational institutions.

Asked if he understood that, Greenberg responded, "I do."

Greenberg had faced 33 charges in all since he was first indicted almost a year ago, prompting his resignation as tax collector.

Hoffman told Greenberg that she would recommend to U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell that he accept Greenberg's plea and told him that judge would set a sentencing date.

Greenberg's attorneys have 14 days from Monday to file any objections.

Hoffman said the U.S. Parole Commission will draft a presentencing report for Presnell with suggested punishment options for each crime. She noted several times that Presnell is not bound by those options and that he can impose harsher penalties as allowed under federal sentencing guidelines.

Hoffman also told Greenberg that parole is not available in the federal corrections system.

Asked whether he had any questions about that, Greenberg said, "I don't have any."

Interactive timeline: The Joel Greenberg case

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