Charges unlikely against Gaetz in federal sex-trafficking probe

·3 min read
Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo

The federal investigation into Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz’s alleged sexual encounters with teenage girls is winding down and no charges are expected to be filed against the firebrand Republican congressman, a person familiar with the probe said Friday.

Federal prosecutors and the FBI began investigating Gaetz in late 2020 during the Trump administration over potential sex trafficking crimes related to allegations he’d paid women for sex and traveled overseas on at least one occasion to parties attended by teenagers who were not yet 18.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment. Gaetz is a close and outspoken ally of former President Donald Trump.

The Washington Post first reported Friday that career prosecutors have recommended not pursuing charges against Gaetz, in part due to concerns about the credibility of potential witnesses. It would be highly unusual for political appointees at the Justice Department to press forward with a prosecution in the face of opposition from top career officials.

Gaetz, who denied having sex as an adult with anyone underage, declined to comment on the development. During an interview Friday night with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Gaetz said he didn’t know any more about the case than what’s been in the media.

“I continue to proclaim by innocence,” he said.

Gaetz’s peril in the investigation seemed to intensify last year when a former close friend, former Seminole County, Fla., Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, pleaded guilty to six federal crimes including a sex trafficking charge and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

The probe into Greenberg steered authorities to look into Gaetz and several other men in Florida and led to the prosecution of Joe Ellicott, a collectibles dealer who was named on a federal grand jury subpoena along with Gaetz.

However, signs of activity in the probe seemed to slow in recent months even as some predicted action in the case by the end of summer. Earlier this month, when the Justice Department entered into a pre-election quiet period for politically-charged investigations without any charges being brought, the chances of charges against Gaetz appeared to dim.

Greenberg’s sentencing has been repeatedly delayed as his cooperation with the feds continued. The precise reasons for the delays were unclear, but defendants aiding the government in an investigation typically want to be able to show the court as much assistance as possible, including grand jury or trial testimony if required.

“Mr. Greenberg has been cooperating with federal prosecutors in active investigations currently being conducted by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida and the Department of Justice in Washington D.C, as well as in other jurisdictions, Greenberg’s defense attorney Fritz Scheller said in a July court filing.

The submission, along with other information given to the court under seal, prompted U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Presnell to put Greenberg’s sentencing off until Dec. 1.

Besides the alleged sex trafficking offense, federal prosecutors were examining whether Gaetz had obstructed justice stemming from a phone call one witness had with Gaetz and the lawmaker’s girlfriend at the time. Exact details of that phone call are unknown.

The New York Times also previously reported that Gaetz sought a blanket pardon in the last few weeks of Trump’s presidency, though it’s unclear if the Florida Republican knew he was under investigation when he asked for the pardon. The Washington Post last week also reported that Gaetz sought a pardon specifically over the federal investigation into sex offenses – details that emerged from testimony provided to the House’s select committee probing the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol.

Greenberg, who was once considered Gaetz’s “wingman,” had faced credibility issues in part because of the massive list of charges he initially faced. Greenberg faced multiple indictments and a total of 33 criminal counts against him at one point, though he eventually pleaded guilty to only six counts. Those criminal charges included sex trafficking a minor, stalking and fraud. He’s facing a minimum of 12 years behind bars.