ORLANDO, Fla. — Former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg pleaded guilty to six charges, including child sex trafficking, in federal court on Monday.
He pleaded guilty to six of the nearly three dozen charges he faced, and he admitted that he had paid at least one underage girl to have sex with him and other men.
SEE: Sketches of Joel Greenberg in federal court
As part of a cooperation agreement, Greenberg’s testimony could lead to others facing charges.
During the nearly hourlong hearing Monday, Greenberg acknowledged he understood the charges he was pleading guilty to and the possible punishment he faced and told the judge he was of a sound frame of mind.
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U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Hoffman told Greenberg that even though the prosecutor may request some leniency from the sentencing judge because of Greenberg’s cooperation, there was no guarantee the judge would agree to the prosecutors’ recommendations, and that Greenberg would be unable to change his plea.
The cooperation plea deal agreement leads former NBI prosecutor Neal McShane to believe the government wants Greenberg’s help to catch a bigger fish.
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#Breaking:Former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg pleads guilty to 6 federal charges, including sex trafficking of a minor. #WFTV pic.twitter.com/faEAzP6zjo— Jeff Levkulich (@jlevkulichWFTV) May 17, 2021
READ: Joel Greenberg to cooperate with investigators, plead guilty to 6 federal charges in court Monday
ABC News sources said U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida may be linked to the situation, but Gaetz denies all allegations.
“Whenever the government enters into a substantial assistance agreement, it’s just the traditional organized crime type of thing with traditional everyday prosecution, you want to go higher up on the ladder,” McShane said.
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Before the investigation made national news, Greenberg was in hot water locally.
The former tax collector was charged with stalking and impersonating a political opponent, making fake driver’s licenses and sex trafficking a child.
In the latest plea agreement, the federal government said Greenberg met the underage girl in 2017 and that he used tax collector credit cards to pay for hotel rooms and would give her and other girls drugs like ecstasy.
Watch: Federal investigation into Greenberg possibly tied to Gatez probe
The paperwork said Greenberg used his role as a tax collector to find out the girl’s age and then tried to get her to lie.
Greenberg also admitted to stalking Brian Buete, a political opponent who ran against him in the 2020 primary election.
Greenberg admitted to posing as one of Butte’s students by writing a letter to Buete’s school, Trinity Preparatory Academy, detailing a fake sexual relationship between the two.
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Beute said this case is an opportunity for Gov. Ron DeSantis to investigate why the tax collector’s office doesn’t answer to anybody.
“We are here today because the state of Florida system failed period, that is why we are here today,” Buete said.
Another victim in all this is Seminole County. Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars were stolen by Greenberg. And the county has waited patiently as the legal process unfolded.
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“I think this morning we saw their work and the fruits of their labor come to be and our legal counsel both in house and our outside counsel are collaborating with the federal prosecutors to ensure we get as a victim restitution back to the taxpayers of Seminole County,” Seminole County Commissioner Jay Zembower said.
Greenberg’s attorney, Fritz Scheller, said on Monday that Greenberg accepts responsibility for everything listed in the plea deal and is on the path to rehabilitation.
“I think he is feeling a sense of acceptance, he definitely feels a sense of remorse,” Scheller said.
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Now Greenberg will meet with federal prosecutors and provide significant cooperation against others they are looking to prosecute. Scheller said Greenberg plans to honor those obligations.
What Scheller wouldn’t say is who those next targets are. Gaetz, Greenberg’s friend and so-called wingman, is currently part of a Department of Justice investigation into alleged sex trafficking, which Gaetz has denied.
Officials said Greenberg will be sentenced in about 75 to 90 days. He could get a lesser sentence depending on how cooperative he is with federal prosecutors.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Overall, Beute says this is an example of the system failing citizens. He wants @GovRonDeSantis to look into this case and other potential cases of misuse of power. His attorney David Bear are ok with plea deal. @WFTV pic.twitter.com/J5vvkqQlqS— Cierra Putman WFTV (@CPutman_WFTV) May 17, 2021
Cox Media Group