By MIKE SCHNEIDER
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A former Florida tax collector whose arrest led to a federal investigation of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz learns this week how much prison time he gets on charges of sex trafficking a minor and identity theft, but not before trying to persuade a judge that his cooperation in several probes should lighten his sentence.
Former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg had faced a prison sentence of between 21 and 27 years under federal sentencing guidelines, but prosecutors asked a judge to substantially reduce any incarceration to seven to nine years because of his cooperation.
Greenberg pleaded guilty to six federal crimes, including sex trafficking of a minor, identity theft, stalking, wire fraud and conspiracy to bribe a public official. Prosecutors said he had paid at least one underage girl to have sex with him and other men.
His attorney, Fritz Scheller, told a federal judge overseeing Greenberg’s sentencing that the jurist has the discretion to reduce the prison time even further. Greenberg has two hearings before U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell on Wednesday and Thursday related to his sentencing.
The minor was almost an adult and had advertised as being over age 18 in her escort profile on the website “Seeking Arrangements,” which facilitates “sugar daddy” relationships, Scheller said in court papers.
“Greenberg appreciates the seriousness of his crimes. Based on such a recognition, he has been trying to make amends through cooperation and the payment of restitution,” Scheller said. “He has provided significant substantial assistance to the government in the areas of public corruption, election fraud, wire fraud, and sex trafficking.”
The judge should also take into consideration Greenberg’s struggles with mental illness, starting with an attention-deficit disorder diagnosis at age 7 and panic attacks, depressive and anxiety disorders as an adult. At the time he committed the crimes, he was suffering from bipolar disorder with symptoms of mania, which affected his judgment and impulse control, Scheller said.
Both prosecutors and Greenberg’s defense attorney filed documents under seal and out of the public eye, saying they were part of ongoing investigations being conducted by federal authorities in Florida and Washington, as well as state investigators.
Greenberg’s role in those investigations originally was going to be laid out during this week’s court hearings, but ultimately the decision was made to keep them confidential in order “to safeguard confidential and sensitive information concerning ongoing investigations and prosecutions,” his defense attorney said in a court filing.
Greenberg’s cooperation could play a role in the ongoing probe into Gaetz, who is being investigated over whether he paid a 17-year-old for sex. Gaetz has denied the allegations and previously said they were part of an extortion plot. Gaetz, a Republican, represents a large part of the Florida Panhandle. No charges have been brought against the congressman.
Greenberg has been linked to a number of other Florida politicians and their associates. So far, none of them has been implicated by name in the sex trafficking probe.
In his sentencing memo asking for leniency, Scheller noted that other potential co-conspirators that Greenberg has named, “including public figures,” haven’t yet faced criminal charges. If prosecutors want to use Greenberg as an example to deter crime, then those others should face justice too, he said.
“Unfortunately, at the time of Greenberg’s sentencing, many of these individuals have not been held to account,” Scheller said.
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