How An Indicted Seminole County Tax Collector Landed Matt Gaetz In Hot Water

Screenshot, Twitter/JoelGreenbergTC
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

Joel Greenberg’s court record looks like a CVS receipt. 

The former Seminole County, Florida tax collector is in trouble — big trouble. Multiple-superseding-indictments trouble. And, as the world learned yesterday, he’s managed to drag his friend, the die-hard Trump supporting congressman Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) into the spotlight with him. 

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Gaetz was under federal investigation — a reported outgrowth of the Greenberg probe — to determine whether he had sex with a 17-year-old around two years ago, and whether he paid for her expenses including travel. 

Gaetz claims… well, he claims a lot of things: That he’s innocent, of course, but also that he and his family are the victims of a massive extortion plot perpetrated by bad actors, including one who was once a federal prosecutor. Also, Gaetz informed Fox News viewers in an interview last night, anything you hear about photos of him with child prostitutes is false. Obviously false! 

We’re already seeing some pushback: The now-former federal prosecutor Gaetz fingered as a extortionist, David McGee, told the Daily Beast that “this is a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that Matt Gaetz is apparently about to be indicted for sex trafficking underage girls.”

The Seminole County, Florida Tax Collector’s Office

Behind the Gaetz uproar, the court record for Greenberg, who has also consistently maintained his innocence, tells a fuller but equally bizarre story

There’s the typical Florida Man business: As tax collector, Greenberg allowed his employees — many his personal friends — to carry guns. He wore a badge and once pulled a woman over for speeding. He spent $1 million of taxpayer funds on body armor, weapons, ammunition and other toys. He started a fire with some computers he was using to start a blockchain company based in his office. He’s an open bigot. Yes of course he got COVID. 

But things ramped up with his first grand jury indictment, in mid-June, accusing the then-tax collector of posing as a student and accusing a school employee, a political opponent of his, of sexual misconduct with a student. Greenberg also allegedly made a fake Twitter account that impersonated his opponent and that, according to the indictment, “represented that the school employee was a segregationist and in favor of white supremacy.”

That indictment opened the door: The government arrested Greenberg and executed a search warrant on June 23, prompting him to resign from his office.

Then, in mid-July, a second indictment dropped, accusing Greenberg not only of stalking, but also of producing false documents and identity theft. Greenberg allegedly used the information from licenses surrendered to the tax collector’s office to create fake IDs using his own photo. 

Then, in mid-August, a third indictment, this time alleging the sex trafficking of a child — in this case, a minor between 14 and 17 years old — as well as the use of a state database to look up individuals with whom he was engaged in “sugar daddy” relationships. The indictment specifically alleged that Greenberg knowingly obtained and disclosed the photograph and driver identification number of the minor victim in the sex trafficking charge.

Between May and November 2017, the second superseding indictment alleged, Greenberg did knowingly “recruit, entice, obtain, maintain, patronize and solicit by any means the Minor Victim,” knowing both that the victim wasn’t 18 and that she would be caused to engage in a commercial sex act. 

Greenberg awaits trial. He was arrested earlier this month for violating the conditions of his pretrial release. According to a police report, he drove to South Florida looking for his wife, prompting his mother-in-law to call the police when he showed up at the mother-in-law’s home. Greenberg’s wife told police that she believed he tracked her using a SnapChat account. 

The former tax collector’s legal problems continue to stack up. On Tuesday, a federal grand jury signed off on yet another federal indictment against Greenberg, one that was entered into his online court docket after this article’s publication. According to the indictment, after his arrest, and while he was on conditions of release, Greenberg “conspired with an employee of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and another individual to submit false claims for Economic Injury Disaster Loans and to bribe the SBA employee.”

The indictment is extensive, adding up to 33 counts against him including the 12 charges previously filed. Ten of the new violations are alleged wire fraud. Greenberg is accused of defrauding Seminole County when he was tax collector, in part through a block chain business he set up.

Among other things, Greenberg allegedly used county funds to buy personal items, including autographed Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant memorabilia, as well as cryptocurrency. Greenberg allegedly represented that he was going to use $200,000 in Tax Collector’s Office funds for an investment for the office, when in fact he used it to buy cryptocurrency, according to the indictment.

Three more counts pertain to alleged illegal monetary transactions, and two more cover bribery and conspiracy to bribe, related to his alleged effort to fraudulently obtain an Economic Injury Disaster Loan from the Small Business Administration. That alleged crime also accounts for three more charges of theft of government property and three false claims charges.

The Gaetz Connection

The Gaetz probe, the Times reported, stemmed from the investigation into Greenberg. But outside the Justice Department, the two men go back years. 

And The Orlando Sentinel reported that several former employees said that Greenberg often spoke about his close friendship with Gaetz, and claimed that Gaetz would visit Greenberg at his Lake Mary home. 

And in July 2017 — right around when Greenberg is accused of sex trafficking — he posted a photo on Twitter with Gaetz and Roger Stone. 

Two years later, he posted another photo with Gaetz at the White House. 

In an interview with Axios, Gaetz asserted that women he’s dated were of-age, and claimed that his lawyers were informed by the Justice Department that “I was not a target but a subject of an investigation regarding sexual conduct with women.” 

“I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I’ve dated,” the congressman said. “You know, I’ve paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner.” 

“I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not.”

This post has been updated.

Latest News
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: