Brian Beute had been a teacher for almost two and half decades when he got the idea in his head to run for local office. A week after Beute filed his paperwork to run for tax collector of Seminole County, Florida, the school where he’d worked for 17 years received an anonymous letter falsely accusing him of an improper relationship with a student. Soon, sock-puppet accounts appeared online parroting the same lie. Beute went on administrative leave, and two weeks later, an investigation by the Seminole County Sheriff’s Department cleared his name.
Beute went back to work, and kept campaigning. It would take almost eight months before local police, and later federal investigators, would unravel the scheme and ultimately arrest the man responsible for spreading those lies: Joel Greenberg, the Seminole County tax collector Beute sought to unseat. In addition to attempting to smear Beute as a pervert and a racist, Greenberg was later accused of a host of other crimes — 33 in total — including using drivers licenses confiscated by his office, embezzling and diverting nearly half a million taxpayer dollars to purchase cryptocurrency and sports memorabilia, and defrauding a Covid relief program. It was many months before Beute realized the investigation that started with Greenberg’s false accusations against him would ultimately threaten to take down a sitting congressman and one of former President Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz.
On Monday, Joel Greenberg pled guilty to six charges, including sex trafficking of a minor, aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, stalking, and conspiracy. Greenberg, who faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 12 years, has signaled through his lawyer that he is now cooperating with government prosecutors to bring charges against Gaetz, who is now reportedly under investigation for his relationship with the same 17-year-old Greenberg pled guilty to sex trafficking. Gaetz maintains his innocence.
Beute spoke about the ordeal for the first time at a press conference on Monday, during which he thanked his wife and two daughters, “three incredibly strong women,” who, he said, “also endured the trauma of these dreadfully false accusations. They never once doubted my innocence and integrity and they too are relieved that today is the beginning of our family’s freedom.”
Later, Beute talked with Rolling Stone about being unwittingly thrust into the white-hot center of a national scandal.
Joel Greenberg entered a guilty plea this week. How did that feel for you?
The jury trial was actually supposed to start in January, and it was postponed several times, then the judge set May 15th as a deadline [for the plea deal]. Once it was announced there was going to be a plea deal, that told me a lot. Psychologically, that was the beginning of feeling a little more at ease, and feeling that there was going to be some kind of justice.
But I’ll say this: I don’t think this story is done.
What do you mean by that?
I don’t mean just nationally. I just have a hard time believing that you can get away with this kind of injustice, this many crimes — even though 27 [charges against Greenberg] were thrown out. I don’t think you reach that point without either assistance, or people looking the other way, or favors. That doesn’t just happen by accident.
I want to see all criminals uprooted locally, because Seminole County citizens don’t have restitution and they don’t have resolve. And therefore, I don’t have restitution or resolve. We need a conclusion.
You’ve called for an investigation at the state level, as well, right?
I expect a full-scale investigation at the state level to identify individuals either complicit or derelict of duty — or maybe the process itself allowed this to happen. I have a hard time believing it, but maybe it did. I want to see a commission, a committee, something. We need to see a resolution so that we can move forward and trust our state government is operating with people of morals, and people who weren’t complicit in what we now know to be a lot of crimes.
I would like to see a full scale investigation of why this crime was ever committed, and more importantly, why did it continue? Why was there not a mediation process for the citizens of Seminole County? Why?
Joel Greenberg was arrested in June, in the middle of the primary campaign you were running against him. But his name stayed on the ballot?
He resigned from office, and then he removed himself from consideration. Then my primary became a two-way race. Or so I thought! Joel Greenberg received 11.5 percent of the vote.
Wow, 11.5 percent of people still voted for him after he’d been arrested for stalking you and resigned from office?
Back when you filed to run for county tax collector, could you ever imagine that this would be the outcome?
I was fully prepared to run a three-way race. I was serious about removing him constitutionally through an election. I just wanted to beat him. I was hoping I was giving the citizen Republicans, at least, that option. I guess several people thought that I never had a chance, but interestingly enough, the crime still happened. Maybe I did have a chance.
Why did you decide to run for tax collector in the first place?
I was involved with a community organization — there’s politics, I guess you’d say, involved with that — and I started to realize that my skills and my interests seemed to line up with the possibility of serving the citizens as a public representative.
I looked at all kinds of different seats, and I didn’t think anything really was a good fit or I’d even have a chance. I had a few friends who said, ‘Why don’t you look at the tax collector situation?’ I knew there were some ridiculous things going on for three years. I took a couple of weeks to really dig in. I saw an article in the Orlando Sentinel entitled something like “Joel Greenberg Gives $3.5 million to Friends and Family“ — something like that. When I saw that, I decided, you know, I’ve had enough, I’m going to run for this. A couple of days later, I was interviewed and I was asked, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just like you’re asking. And I’ll say the same thing, because it’s true: I felt that he lacked the character that was necessary to serve the citizens of our county.
It was about a week after you gave that interview that the school where you work received the letter that touched off this whole series of events, culminating in Greenberg’s guilty plea this week. What will you do now?
Well, I’m thankful that I work for a great institution — which found itself in the crosshairs too — that finds I’m an upstanding individual. So, I’ll be teaching again — it will be my 25th year in the profession.
But I still have some goals to communicate throughout the next couple of months. I don’t know which came first: Did Americans become disengaged because of criminal opportunists who hijacked the parties? Or did these opportunists arise because they saw a disengagement? I don’t know which came first. I’m not a sociologist or political historian. My message is, ultimately: Since I can’t change the political apparatus, let’s change it collectively. Let’s get involved. [There are] 210 million Americans that are officially adults over the age of 18, if even one percent of those Americans got involved — only one percent — going to meetings, supporting a candidate, becoming a candidate, you’d have roughly 40,000 newly engaged citizens in every single state, on average. In Florida, our number would be much higher. There’s more of us than these political opportunists — that’s how a culture can be restored. We’ve got to stop asking our legislators to do it for us.
Do you see yourself running for office again?
I don’t know. All I know is this: I took it on the chin pretty hard, and my school took it on the chin pretty hard, and my family took it on the chin. My friends.
Here’s what I’d rather see: I’d rather see my [message] be adopted by 2.1 million Americans. If I had a request, if I could manufacture my legacy, which I cannot, but if I could, that’s what I’d like to see my legacy be. Here’s a guy, a regular guy, just a teacher who ran for public office. His right to run for public office was disrupted. His family’s liberty was disrupted. His entire life was disrupted. But he didn’t quit. He gave it a valiant effort. And if there’s more of us, the criminals disappear. So I can’t do it on my own. I could never — even if I ran again — I could never do it on my own.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.