ORLANDO, Fla. — A former Florida tax collector whose arrest led to a federal investigation of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz learns this week how much prison time he gets on charges of sex trafficking of a minor and identity theft, but not before trying to persuade a judge that his cooperation in several probes should lighten his sentence.
What You Need To Know
- Former Seminole tax collector to be sentenced this week
- Joel Greenberg has pleaded guilty to six federal crimes
- The charges included sex trafficking of a minor and identity theft
- Prosecutors asked a judge to reduce his sentence due to his cooperation in several investigations
Former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg was in a federal courtroom in Orlando on Wednesday for the first of two pre-sentencing hearings. He had faced a prison sentence of between 21 and 27 years under federal sentencing guidelines, but prosecutors asked a judge to substantially reduce any incarceration to seven to nine years because of his cooperation.
Greenberg pleaded guilty to six federal crimes, including sex trafficking of a minor, identity theft, stalking, wire fraud and conspiracy to bribe a public official. Prosecutors said he had paid at least one underage girl to have sex with him and other men.
His attorney, Fritz Scheller, told a federal judge overseeing Greenberg’s sentencing that the jurist has the discretion to reduce the prison time even further. Greenberg's second hearing related to his sentencing is scheduled for Thursday before U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell.
No cameras were allowed in the courtroom on Wednesday.
The judge said when it comes to how long that sentence will be, the parties are in agreement on some issues with which he does not agree. In court Wednesday, both sides agreed with a range of 111 to 132 months, a bit more than 9 years to 11 years.
Ultimately, it’s up to the judge to decide whether he thinks that’s long enough considering the different crimes that are involved.
The prosecution argued that Greenberg must be punished for his actions that span more than three years and involve hundreds of transactions. The state said Greenberg should have his sentence reduced only because he shared information that led to other arrests related to conspiracy and bribes.
They also mentioned his cooperation on other matters outlined in a sealed supplemental memorandum. Whatever information Greenberg gave that is included in that memorandum is sealed by the court and is not public at this point.
Scheller said he is expecting two more indictments in the next month or so based on Greenberg’s cooperation and that should be considered in sentencing, which is expected Thursday.
The minor was almost an adult and had advertised as being over age 18 in her escort profile on the website “Seeking Arrangements,” which facilitates “sugar daddy” relationships, Scheller said in court papers.
“Greenberg appreciates the seriousness of his crimes. Based on such a recognition, he has been trying to make amends through cooperation and the payment of restitution,” Scheller said. “He has provided significant substantial assistance to the government in the areas of public corruption, election fraud, wire fraud and sex trafficking.”
The judge should also take into consideration Greenberg’s struggles with mental illness, starting with an attention-deficit disorder diagnosis at age 7 and panic attacks, depressive and anxiety disorders as an adult. At the time he committed the crimes, he was suffering from bipolar disorder with symptoms of mania, which affected his judgment and impulse control, Scheller said.
Both prosecutors and Greenberg’s defense attorney filed documents under seal and out of the public eye, saying they were part of ongoing investigations being conducted by federal authorities in Florida and Washington, as well as state investigators.
Greenberg’s role in those investigations originally was going to be laid out during this week’s court hearings, but ultimately the decision was made to keep them confidential in order “to safeguard confidential and sensitive information concerning ongoing investigations and prosecutions,” his defense attorney said in a court filing.
Greenberg’s cooperation could play a role in the ongoing probe into Gaetz, who is being investigated over whether he paid a 17-year-old for sex. Gaetz has denied the allegations and previously said they were part of an extortion plot. Gaetz, a Republican, represents a large part of the Florida Panhandle. No charges have been brought against the congressman.
Greenberg has been linked to a number of other Florida politicians and their associates. So far, none of them has been implicated by name in the sex trafficking probe.
In his sentencing memo asking for leniency, Scheller noted that other potential co-conspirators that Greenberg has named, “including public figures,” haven’t yet faced criminal charges. If prosecutors want to use Greenberg as an example to deter crime, then those others should face justice too, he said.
“Unfortunately, at the time of Greenberg’s sentencing, many of these individuals have not been held to account,” Scheller said.