WASHINGTON – Rep. Matt Gaetz’s communication director resigned abruptly Friday amid a storm of controversies that have hit the Florida Republican, including news of a federal investigation into an alleged sexual relationship with a teenage girl and potential violations of sex trafficking laws.
Luke Ball, who has worked for Gaetz since he joined the U.S. House in 2017, resigned as Gaetz’s spokesman “out of principle,” a source with direct knowledge of his decision told the Pensacola News Journal, which is part of the USA TODAY Network.
Gaetz’s office said in a statement later Friday that the congressman and Ball “agreed that it would be best to part ways.”
“We thank him for his time in our office, and we wish him the best moving forward,” said the statement.
According to his LinkedIn, Ball began working for Gaetz as an intern for his Pensacola, Florida, office in 2017, before becoming a congressional aide . After working as Gaetz’s deputy campaign manager in 2018, Ball served as Gaetz’s press assistant in Washington before being promoted to communications director.
The inquiry into Gaetz, one of former President Donald Trump’s most ardent advocates in Congress, began during the previous administration. Former Attorney General William Barr was briefed on the investigation last year, a person familiar with the matter told USA TODAY. The source, who is not authorized to comment on a pending investigation, said federal authorities had opened a full investigation at the time.
Gaetz, who has not been charged with a crime, has denied any wrongdoing and says the allegations of sexual misconduct are part of an extortion plot against him.
“Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex” and the congressman “refutes all the disgusting allegations completely,” his office told the Times in a statement. “Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life.”
Gaetz is engaged to Ginger Luckey, sister of Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey.
“I believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know when I was a single guy,” he told Axios in an interview about the investigation and allegations.
The Justice Department probe is focused on alleged cash payments Gaetz made in exchange for sex, according to The New York Times, which first reported on the investigation. Authorities are also trying to determine if Gaetz, 38, had sex with a 17-year-old girl and whether she received anything material in exchange for sex.
Gaetz is suspected of making payments to multiple women in addition to the girl for encounters at hotels and other locations that sometimes included the use of the illegal drug ecstasy, according to the Times. The paper reported it was shown receipts of Cash App and Apple Pay payments to one woman from Gaetz and Joel Greenberg, a former Florida county tax collector and political ally of Gaetz who has been indicted on more than 30 federal charges, including child sex trafficking.
On top of the news of the federal probe, CNN reported Gaetz often bragged to his congressional colleagues about his sexual activity. The cable news network said Gaetz shared with other lawmakers nude photos and videos of women he claimed to have slept with.
And amid the recent allegations, previous reports have resurfaced that as a member of the Florida Legislature Gaetz and other young male lawmakers created a “game” that awarded points according to their sexual conquests. Citing unnamed sources, ABC News reported that the scoring system allotted different points for interns, the lawmakers’ female colleagues and women they had heard were virgins.
Contributing: Jim Little, Pensacola News Journal