Newly released emails call into question Greenberg’s friendships at start of federal investigation

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — Newly-released documents are providing more detail about the relationships Joel Greenberg kept, and how those friendships came into question during the initial investigation that led to his first set of federal charges.

An attorney told law enforcement at the beginning of that investigation he believed Greenberg was just one person involved in a smear campaign against one of Greenberg’s political opponents.

Greenberg’s first arrest in June of 2020 involved claims he stalked another candidate for tax collector. Since then, the investigation has expanded to include dozens of charges including sex trafficking, which led to the current investigation into Congressman Matt Gaetz.

Audit of Greenberg’s time as tax collector shows contracts with ‘no example of work product’

Investigators later confirmed Greenberg’s fingerprints were found on a letter sent to Trinity Preparatory School, falsely accusing one of its teachers, tax collector candidate Brian Beute, of an inappropriate relationship with a student.

Now, emails from Beute’s attorney dating back to the fall of 2019 are describing a possible coordinated effort to smear his client’s name. Attorney David Bear pointed to Greenberg, along with developer Chris Dorworth and blogger Jacob Engels.

The emails describe this background: Before Beute sought Greenberg’s position, he was a leader of Save Rural Seminole, a group that was successful in blocking a proposed development in Seminole County’s rural boundary known as River Cross. The developer behind that effort is former state lawmaker and lobbyist Chris Dorworth.

READ: New documents detail deputy run-ins with former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg

Dorworth is a friend of Greenberg’s. He resigned from his position with Ballard Partners following a New York Times report that he and Congressman Gaetz had discussed financially supporting a shill candidate in the state Senate race in order to sway votes for their friend, Jason Brodeur. Both Gaetz and Dorworth have denied this allegation.

Beute’s attorney claimed in emails that “Dorworth has a history of hiring a local provocateur,” referring to blogger Jacob Engels. The email even cited an unrelated defamation lawsuit against Engels in which the attorney claimed Dorworth was the financier of the alleged defamation, which is something Dorworth denied in an email to 9 Investigates.

Engels runs a publication called the Central Florida Post. He made Facebook Live posts about Beute days before Greenberg’s arrest. Beute’s attorney told deputies that months before Trinity Prep leaders received the accusations against their teacher, Engels sent an email about Beute’s opposition to Dorworth’s development; accusing the teacher of leading a pro-segregation group, and describing the county’s rural boundary as racist.

READ: Former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg faces new charges related to pandemic loans

Engels’ name has been tied to Greenberg since the beginning of the former tax collector’s political career. Days before the 2016 primary that would secure Greenberg’s position in office, longtime incumbent Ray Valdes knocked Engels’ phone to the ground at an event in Altamonte Springs. It happened during a confrontation some speculated was a coordinated effort to help Greenberg win.

The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office never investigated Engels or Dorworth related to the claims against Beute. Once Greenberg’s fingerprints were found on the letter, the case went to federal investigators.

Dorworth responded to the claims made by Bear via email to 9 Investigates:

“I’ve never seen that before, and it is upsetting that Mr. Bear chose to smear me on behalf of Mr. Beute with no evidence other than paranoid conjecture.

READ: Federal investigation into Greenberg possibly tied to Gaetz probe

“The federal government indicted Mr. Greenberg for this, and I believe it was cruel and reprehensible that somebody would do that to another person for any reason. I was never contacted by law enforcement in the investigation of the matter and would have nothing to add if I had been. I know only what I’ve read about it in the news and my heart goes out to the Beute family for having to suffer such an indignity.

“I’ve never said a bad word about Mr. Beute to anyone in public or private. He was always a decent respectful opponent. I actually voted for him in the tax collector primary.

“Mr. Bear’s words on his behalf, though are defamatory and based on a desire to hurt my project and me. Mr. Bear failed to mention that he is the current chair of Save Rural Seminole who is now the lead opponent for that project. Mr. Bear had no evidence of anything when accusing me below, and I will seek legal remedy for what was said when the time is right.”

READ: Attorney for ex-Seminole County tax collector says plea deal in the works

Engels also denied the allegations in an email to 9 Investigates, stating, “My publication, the Central Florida Post scrutinized Brian Beute’s work history as we do with every candidate for public office. His allegations against me are unfounded and untrue. The fact that he has not brought civil action against Central Florida Post or myself speaks volumes. He ran for public office and it is the job of journalists to scrutinize those who seek to represent us.”

Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.