‘You have to get it right': Why Matt Gaetz’s legal problems may not be over
Rep. Matt Gaetz’s legal worries didn’t hurt him in a congressional primary election in Florida’s 1st Congressional District on Tuesday, August 23, when he defeated fellow Republican Mark Lombardo by 45 percent. Now, the far-right MAGA congressman will go up against the Democratic nominee, 33-year-old geographer/scientist Rebekah Jones — who says she was fired from her former position at the Florida Department of Health for refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data — in the general election.
Gaetz’s legal problems haven’t been in the headlines as much in recent months, and he hasn’t actually been charged with anything in connection with a federal underage sex trafficking investigation. But according to Daily Beast reporters José Pagliery, Roger Sollenberger and Asta Hemenway, those problems may not be over.
“When Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) beat his primary challenger Tuesday,” the journalists report in an article published on August 25, “he delivered a speech to family and friends predicting an easy repeat victory in November that would allow him to remain with ‘Republicans with a will to fight and a backbone.’ There was, predictably, no mention of the underage sex trafficking investigation that could one day be catastrophic to his political career. That federal probe that generated national attention for a few weeks last year has since quieted down. But it’s not over.”
Pagliery, Sollenberger and Hemenway continue, “Eight people with direct knowledge of the probe confirmed to The Daily Beast that the case is still unfolding — albeit at a methodical pace — as federal prosecutors work their way across a number of spokes of possible criminality. While each zone has its own sets of witnesses, subjects, and targets, all of it spirals out from one man: a crooked local tax official and Gaetz’s former ‘wingman,’ Joel Greenberg.”
The Beast interviewed Lyle Mazin, a criminal defense attorney, who stressed that federal prosecutor Roger B. Handberg hasn’t forgotten about the case but rather, is taking his time conducting a thorough and comprehensive investigation.
Mazin told the Beast, “He’s methodical. He doesn’t let anything go,” Mazin said. “If you’re going after a monster, you have to get it right —especially when you have a bunch of (Donald) Trump supporters who’ll come after you.”
An attorney quoted anonymously in the article told the Beast that prosecutors in the trafficking case will “only strike when the case is tightly built.” And according to Pagliery, Sollenberger and Hemenway, two other attorneys interviewed by the Beast “said prosecutors will take extreme steps to avoid the appearance of interfering with the midterms, and expected any announcements involving Gaetz would likely come several weeks after the November election.”
“The investigation into Gaetz himself is only one item in an expanding queue,” Pagliery, Sollenberger and Hemenway observe. “The probe of Greenberg alone has uncovered so many layers of public corruption in Central Florida that investigators have had to peel them apart one by one: illicit real estate deals, embezzlement of federal COVID-19 paycheck assistance, a local Republican scheme to run ‘ghost’ candidates, a public corruption plot involving a number of powerful state figures — and ultimately, the sex trafficking investigation involving the congressman himself.”
The reporters continue, “In late 2020, while Greenberg was angling for a presidential pardon, he wrote a confession letter — obtained exclusively by The Daily Beast — detailing the way Gaetz would use him as a middleman to pay for sex with young women and at least one underage girl. Greenberg’s non-public Venmo payments — also obtained exclusively by The Daily Beast — reflected that arrangement. In one example, Gaetz paid his buddy $900, writing in one memo field, ‘hit up ___,’ using a nickname for the formerly underage girl, who by then, had just turned 18. Greenberg was charged with trafficking that teen in August 2020.”
The Beast also interviewed Lombardo, the Florida Republican who lost to Gaetz by 45 percent on August 23 — and Lombardo isn’t shy about expressing his frustration. Lombardo acknowledges that the sex trafficking probe “played a factor” in his decision to challenge Gaetz in that primary.
Lombardo told the Beast, “If you’re asking me whether I’m frustrated, of course I am. I thought he’d be long gone…. The wheels of justice don’t grind very fast.”
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