Who Is Joel Greenberg? A Guide to the Man Who Could Bring Down Matt Gaetz
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has for weeks now been trying to fend off one of the most bizarre sex scandal allegations to ever befall a member of Congress. The man he has to thank, other than himself, is Joel Greenberg.
When The New York Times reported last month that Gaetz was under federal investigation over whether he engaged in the sex-trafficking of a 17-year-old girl, it noted that the inquiry sprung from a separate investigation into Greenberg. A former Seminole County, Florida, tax collector, Greenberg has been charged with everything from sex crimes to buying sports memorabilia with taxpayer money. Gaetz and Greenberg were friendly, and if Greenberg cooperates with investigators, as his attorney Fritz Scheller indicated he might last week, it could be very, very bad news for the Trump-loving congressman.
“I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller told reporters gathered outside a federal courthouse in Orlando last Thursday, referring to Gaetz as a “potential co-defendant” to Greenberg.
It’s unclear to what extent Gaetz could be exposed legally if Greenberg does indeed strike a plea deal and cooperate. It is clear, however, that the two knew and associated with each other, and reports have suggested that their relationship may have overlapped with some of the activities for which Greenberg has been charged. Here’s what we know so far about Greenberg’s case, and where the Trump-loving Florida congressman fits into this sordid story of sex, corruption, and cryptocurrency:
Who is Joel Greenberg?
Greenberg was arrested in June of 2020 on stalking charges, and has since been slapped with a total of 33 federal charges. The scope of his alleged criminality is astonishing, even by Florida Man standards, but the fact that he was potentially engaged in criminal activity couldn’t have come as a shock to anyone following his chaotic tenure as Seminole County’s tax collector.
Greenberg, now 36, owned an Orlando advertising business when he decided to take a shot at unseating longtime incumbent Ray Valdes in Seminole County’s 2016 tax collector election. He won the race, and soon drew the attention of several prominent Trump supporters, including Gaetz. “Joel Greenberg has gone to the Seminole County Tax Collector’s office and been a disrupter,” Gaetz said in 2017. “If you look at what people want in the country right now, they want that disrupter … If Joel Greenberg were to run for congress from that district, I think he becomes the next congressman from the 7th district.”
“Disrupter” is a creative descriptor for Greenberg’s highly controversial tenure in local office, which was characterized by fights that had little to do with his job. In 2017, he sought and won a controversial exemption from a Florida state law that prohibits employees from carrying a gun while performing their duties. A few months later, he came under fire for using his official vehicle and ID to pull a woman over for speeding. The following year, he made headlines for posting anti-Muslim sentiment on Facebook and then claiming he doesn’t have “a racist or bigoted bone in my body” and that he comes from a generation that “doesn’t see color.” He courted more controversy in 2019 when he sought to get out of a speeding ticket by citing his job.
Greenberg’s time as tax collector was also marred by accusations of cronyism. Auditors who reviewed records of Greenberg’s tenure found that he doled out unnecessary consulting contracts to friends and associates, and tallied more than $1.65 million in “unnecessary personnel costs.” According to documents from that audit, Greenberg invented and installed friends a number of high-paying positions, including a “special projects tech” paid $162,572, a “safety specialist” paid $195,807, and at least one woman with no known title who was paid $105,053. ”Staff have no idea what she did,” the auditor wrote.
The superfluous staff were terminated after Greenberg resigned following his arrest last June.
What are the charges against Joel Greenberg?
Greenberg was initially arrested in June 2020 for alleged attempts to “cause substantial emotional distress” to a music teacher who had filed to run against Greenberg. This led to charges of stalking and unlawful use of means of identification of another person. Prosecutors accused Greenberg of mailing anonymous letters to the prep school where the teacher worked, suggesting the male teacher had an improper sexual relationship with an underage student, and spreading the same false accusations on Twitter and Facebook.
Later that summer, Greenberg was charged with numerous violations of Driver’s Privacy Protection Act Violations, multiple counts of production of an identification document and false identification documents, and aggravated identity theft. According to prosecutors, Greenberg abused his elected office, using “his access to the Seminole County Tax Collector’s Office to take surrendered driver licenses before they were shredded.” He then “used the surrendered driver licenses that he had taken to cause fake driver licenses to be produced that had his photograph but the personal information of the victims whose driver licenses he had taken.”
He was also charged with sex trafficking a minor, which ultimately led authorities to launch a separate investigation into whether Gaetz may have engaged in sex trafficking of the same person. Greenberg was allegedly using fake IDs to “facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts” with individuals with whom he engaged in “sugar daddy” relationships.
Somehow, this isn’t all. In March of this year, Greenberg was slapped with 21 new federal charges, including the alleged embezzlement of more than $400,000 in taxpayer money. The audit of Greenberg found that nearly $100,000 of it was used to set up a cryptocurrency mining operation, the overheating of which was blamed for a fire that caused nearly $7,000 in damages. Greenberg also allegedly used taxpayer money to buy sports memorabilia, including gear signed by Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. Auditors found that Greenberg also used taxpayer money on body armor, weapons, ammo, and a drone with thermal imaging capabilities.
To top it off, Greenberg has been accused of re-establishing businesses he’d shut down in order to get apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans, and then attempting to bribe Small Business Administration employees into helping him scam his way into getting Covid-19 relief money.
In total, Greenberg is facing a total of 33 federal charges, for which he is awaiting trial in July. He was initially released on bond after his arrest last year, but was jailed again last month after violating the curfew attached to his release. In late February, Greenberg drove to his mother-in-law’s home in Jupiter, Florida, at 5 a.m. to try to find his wife. His mother-in-law called the police, who did not arrest him at the time. They came to get him a few days later at his home outside of Orlando. A standoff ensued, during which Greenberg claimed to have explosives and, at one point, opened his door and threw a bag of medication onto the driveway. It took hours for the police to take him into custody.
How are Matt Gaetz and Joel Greenberg connected?
Greenberg wasted no time working his way into the world of Trump supporters in Florida politics after becoming tax collector. He even spoke at a Trump rally in Sanford, Florida, in late 2016. According to the Times, he met Gaetz in 2017 through a network of Trump backers in Florida, and it was in June of that year that Gaetz floated the idea of Greenberg running for U.S. Congress. A month later, Greenberg posted a picture of himself, Gaetz, and Roger Stone to Twitter. The picture was posted during the time period prosecutors said Greenberg was recruiting the 17-year-old in question for sex.
Great catching up with @mattgaetz and @RogerJStoneJr pic.twitter.com/46SjAsiL42
— Joel Greenberg (@JoelGreenbergTC) July 9, 2017
We also know that Greenberg and Gaetz were Venmo friends.
The Daily Beast reported last week that in May 2018 Gaetz sent Greenberg $900 through Venmo with a message “hit up _____,” the blank being a nickname for a woman who had turned 18 less than six months before the transaction. Hours later, Greenberg used the same app to pay three young women a total of $900. The Daily Beast later reported on more damning Venmo transactions between Gaetz and Greenberg and from Greenberg to young women, including a 17-year-old.
The financial transactions between Gaetz, Greenberg, and young women recruited online are reportedly at the heart of the federal investigation into Gaetz. The Times has reported that both Gaetz and Greenberg made Cash App and Apple Pay payments to at least one of the women who has been questioned by the FBI. In 2019 and 2020, people familiar with the investigation told the Times, Gaetz and Greenberg would meet women recruited online, pay them in cash drawn from ATMs, and have sex with them.
The Daily Beast’s report also notes that Gaetz and Greenberg “share Venmo connections with at least two women who received [Venmo] payments from Greenberg, and both have professional relationships with each other.” The Times reported that the 17-year-old that led to Greenberg’s sex trafficking charge is the same 17-year-old investigators have connected to Gaetz.
So, there’s a lot of overlap here, which, as Greenberg’s attorney told reporters on Thursday, is plenty reason for Gaetz to feel uncomfortable as the prospect of Greenberg’s cooperating with investigators looms.
This post has been updated.