May 6, 2021

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Joel Greenberg, 36, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), 38, became friends soon after Greenberg was elected Seminole County tax collector and Gaetz won a seat in Congress in 2016. Both men were “brash politicians who hailed from families of considerable wealth and who themselves rose to power quickly,” and “they also enjoyed parties and the company of women,” The Washington Post reports, citing people who know both Gaetz and Greenberg. That latter interest — woman and parties — is also why both men are under federal investigation.

Before the feds got involved in late 2019 or early 2020, Greenberg had already been on the radar of local law enforcement — for, among other things, allegedly misusing public funds, handing lucrative and unnecessary contracts and state jobs to friends and allies, and impersonating a police officer, pulling over a woman for speeding using a badge and lights on his private vehicle.

But local police did not start investigating Greenberg until, according the a federal indictment, he tried to derail a GOP primary challenger, prep school music teacher Brian Beute, by sending his school a fraudulent note claiming Beute had carried on an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student. Beute roped in a lawyer acquaintance, David Bear, who convinced the sheriff’s office that whoever was behind the smear campaign had committed a crime. Bear also successfully encouraged the sheriff’s office to seek help from the feds, the Post reports.

“When authorities arrested Greenberg and sifted through his electronic records and devices — according to documents and people involved in the case — they discovered a medley of other alleged wrongdoing, leading them to open an investigation of possible sex trafficking involving a far more high-profile Florida Republican,” Gaetz, the Post reports. Beute thought about dropping the matter after local investigators cleared him of having sex with a student, but “he decided not to,” Bear told the Post. “All of these other things mushroomed out of that one decision for him to stand tall.”

Greenberg, facing 33 counts including sex trafficking of a child, is reportedly cooperating with prosecutors to earn some leniency. Gaetz denies the alleged focus of his investigation — paying for sex and having sex with a minor across state lines — and has not been charged or formally accused of wrongdoing. Read more about how the case came together at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

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