ORLANDO, Fla. — A former local official in Florida facing an array of federal charges in an inquiry that is also focused on Rep. Matt Gaetz was expected to plead guilty, lawyers said in court Thursday, an indication that the defendant is likely to cooperate as a key witness against Gaetz.
A cooperation agreement by Joel Greenberg, a former county tax collector north of Orlando, is almost certain to create legal difficulties for Gaetz, a prominent ally of former President Donald Trump. Investigators are said to be examining their involvement with women who were recruited online for sex and given cash payments, as well as whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old. Greenberg, who already faces one count of sex trafficking involving the girl, would be able to give prosecutors a firsthand account of their actions.
Greenberg faces other charges, including stalking a political rival and trying to bribe a federal official; he has pleaded not guilty.
Greenberg’s potential deal comes as the FBI has widened its investigation to include questions about a trip to the Bahamas that Gaetz took with Republican allies from Florida and women who were asked to provide sex for them, according to four people familiar with the inquiry.
Investigators have also been told of a conversation where Gaetz and a prominent Florida lobbyist discussed arranging a sham candidate in a state Senate race last year to siphon votes from an ally’s opponent, according to two people familiar with the investigation.
Gaetz’s legislative director in Washington, Devin Murphy, abruptly quit last week, three people familiar with the decision said Thursday, becoming the second senior aide to resign since the Justice Department inquiry came to light. And late Thursday, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois became the first Republican representative to call on Gaetz to step down.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, told reporters outside the federal courthouse in Orlando. He and a Justice Department prosecutor, Roger Handberg, both disclosed Greenberg’s expected plea during an earlier six-minute hearing.
Gaetz, 38, has denied that he paid for sex or had sex with a minor. Gaetz’s office declined to comment about Murphy’s departure but did not respond to requests for comment about Greenberg’s potential plea deal or the sham candidate discussion.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.