- Joel Greenberg has been cooperating against Rep. Matt Gaetz since last year, NYT reported.
- Greenberg reportedly told investigators that he and Gaetz had interactions with women who were given cash or gifts in exchange for sex.
- Gaetz has been embroiled in a political firestorm since The Times reported that he was being investigated over whether he broke sex trafficking laws.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector and close associate of GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, has been cooperating with federal investigators since last year, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Greenberg has given investigators information about an "array of topics," the report said, including encounters that he and Gaetz allegedly had with women who were given cash and gifts in exchange for sex.
The Justice Department first indicted Greenberg last June, and he resigned from his government position shortly after. Since then, he's been charged with 33 counts, including carrying out the sex trafficking of a minor between the ages of 14 and 17.
Gaetz, meanwhile, has been embroiled in a political firestorm since The Times reported last month that the Justice Department was investigating him as part of the Greenberg inquiry. In particular, the feds are said to be looking into whether Gaetz had sex with a minor and violated sex trafficking laws.
The Florida Republican lawmaker has fervently denied the allegations against him and claimed the department's probe is part of an elaborate and convoluted extortion scheme against his family.
"Congressman Gaetz has never paid for sex," a spokesperson for Gaetz told Insider in an email when asked for comment on The Times report. "Based on reporting from Politico, it seems Mr. Greenberg has been trying to ensnare innocent people in his troubles for quite some time."
"It's unsurprising that as news breaks of CNN staff admitting to a concerted media propaganda effort against Rep Gaetz, the three biggest peddlers of fake news in the business drop another non-story," the spokesperson continued.
Tuesday's reporting comes after prosecutors and Greenberg's defense attorneys told a judge last week that they were close to reaching a plea deal.
It's unclear what the terms of the agreement would be, but Greenberg's lawyer Fritz Scheller hinted that his client was cooperating with prosecutors, telling reporters last week, "I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today."
It's unusual for prosecutors or defense attorneys to publicize the existence of a plea deal because they'd want to avoid tipping off other targets.
"I don't know if [Scheller's] foreshadowing, I don't know what the motive would be because generally cooperators don't want people to know they're cooperating," Sherine Ebadi, a former FBI agent who was the lead agent in the government's case against ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, told Insider. "But maybe that buck has passed because this case has been so publicly talked about."
The Times' report on Tuesday, which revealed that Greenberg has been cooperating since last year, also suggests he didn't have much to lose when lawyers for the prosecution and defense told the court last week that a plea deal was on the horizon.
Based on media reporting about the Gaetz probe, prosecutors likely have a large trail of breadcrumbs to follow as they work to corroborate the allegations against the GOP lawmaker.
The investigation is said to be looking into whether he used campaign money to fund travel for women, and The Times reported investigators were scrutinizing Gaetz and Greenberg's interactions with "multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments."
CBS News reported that prosecutors were also zeroing in on a trip Gaetz took to the Bahamas in late 2018 or early 2019 with a hand surgeon and marijuana entrepreneur who is accused of footing the bill for female sex workers, hotel rooms, and travel expenses. And The Daily Beast reported that Gaetz sent Greenberg $900 via Venmo in 2018 and that Greenberg then sent $900, in varying amounts, to three young women.
But there's other information that prosecutors would need to build a strong case, details they may not be able to glean from records and documents.
That's where Greenberg comes in.
For one, he could have been privy to conversations in which only he and Gaetz were present or private communications that took place on encrypted apps, in text messages that could have been deleted, or on a burner phone.
"There could be a number of things they did that the government may not have access to or doesn't even know exist," Ebadi said.
But the biggest thing he could speak to, she added, is whether Gaetz expressed his intent in the conduct he's accused of engaging in.
"Depending on what prosecutors charge, often an element in various cases is intent, or proving someone's knowledge or willfulness when committing a crime," Ebadi said, adding that with Greenberg, "you could have someone that was present when [Gaetz] was making statements like, 'I'm going to do this,' or 'I'm doing this for these particular reasons.' Those are crucial words in a case like this, especially when it comes to that element of intent."