Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), currently embroiled in a scandal tying him to an indicted former official in Florida who has been charged with sex-trafficking crimes, reportedly paid that person in two transactions containing the same amount of money later sent to three women.
The Daily Beast reports that Gaetz sent $900 to Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector for Seminole County, Florida, through the cash-sharing app Venmo. The morning after Gaetz had sent the money, Greenberg sent the exact same amount to three women.
Gaetz has denied involvement with Greenberg’s activities, but in one of the memo fields of the transactions, the congressman wrote “hit up ___,” with the blank space being the name of one of the women Greenberg would eventually forward the money to. (The woman is now part of the adult film industry, The Daily Beast reported.) Greenberg himself described the payments as being for “Tuition” or “School” in his memo fields to the women.
The revelation of these payments, in conjunction with related investigations into Gaetz’s actions, prompted Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois) to call for Gaetz to resign, becoming the first Republican official in Congress to do so.
“Matt Gaetz needs to resign,” Kinzinger wrote in a Twitter post, citing the reporting by The Daily Beast.
— Adam Kinzinger (@AdamKinzinger) April 9, 2021
Greenberg has been indicted on 33 federal criminal charges, including sex-trafficking crimes involving a 17-year-old. The Justice Department is examining Gaetz’s payment history, The New York Times reported earlier this month, investigating his and Greenberg’s involvement with women who were recruited online to engage in sex in exchange for gifts or payments.
The Justice Department is also examining whether Gaetz violated federal sex-trafficking laws based on sexual relations he allegedly had with a 17-year-old.
Several federal statutes make it illegal to induce the travel of a person under age 18 over state lines to have sexual relations in exchange for money or gifts. The investigation of Gaetz and whether he violated those laws was opened in the final months of the Trump administration. Gaetz, a strong ally of the former president, also sought a blanket pardon from Trump in the final weeks of his tenure, which would have essentially removed the possibility of Gaetz being prosecuted for any crime he may have committed over a certain period of time. The request was denied by the White House.
Gaetz denied any wrongdoing in an op-ed he wrote for The Washington Times published on Monday. He said he has “never, ever paid for sex,” and indicated he did not have a sexual relationship with a minor.
In the same op-ed, Gaetz indicated he is “absolutely not resigning” from office.
In spite of those assertions, many recent developments have suggested that Gaetz is in hot water. At a court hearing on Thursday involving Greenberg, for example, federal prosecutors indicated that they expected the indicted former tax collector to work out a plea deal with them.
“We believe this case will be a plea,” U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg said.
Although a plea arrangement hasn’t been formalized yet, Greenberg’s own attorney, Fritz Scheller, suggested his client was in a good position to create a plea deal, implying that his closeness to Gaetz should give the congressman reason to worry.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said to reporters earlier this week.