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Matt Gaetz subpoenaed in friend's lawsuit accusing others of defamation in sex trafficking probe

The Justice Department has told the Florida Republican he won't face any charges as a result of its probe. Gaetz isn't a direct party to the defamation lawsuit.
Image: Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.,
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., in the Rayburn Office Building on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Nathan Howard / AP file

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., has been subpoenaed to give a deposition as part of a civil lawsuit filed by a longtime friend and political ally who alleges he was defamed during a lengthy Justice Department investigation into accusations that Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl.

The underlying lawsuit, filed by former Florida state lawmaker Chris Dorworth, lists several defendants, including the young unnamed woman and Joel Greenberg, a former Orlando-area elected tax collector now serving 11 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to a half-dozen federal crimes, such as sex trafficking of a minor.

Gaetz, who once called Greenberg his "wingman," faced an investigation launched in 2020 by the Justice Department over allegations he had a sexual relationship with a minor. He was informed last year that no charges would be brought against him.

Dorworth filed his lawsuit after Greenberg alleged that he had ties to the scandal.

A spokesman said Thursday that Gaetz is not a party to the underlying lawsuit.

“Congressman Gaetz received a witness subpoena in an ongoing lawsuit between outside parties,” the spokesman said. “He is not being sued, and he is neither a plaintiff nor a defendant at this time.”

The spokesman did not say whether Gaetz would comply with the subpoena.

ABC News first reported the subpoena.

The Justice Department investigation focused, in part, on a trip to the Bahamas and whether girls on that trip were underage and paid to travel for sex, which would violate federal law.

Dorworth told NBC News on Thursday that he believes the push to get Gaetz to give a deposition is a “shameless” attempt by Greenberg, whose family is wealthy and politically connected in the Orlando area, to try to reduce his sentence.

“The federal government investigated their lies fully and came back with no charges. Greenberg’s lawyers have publicly clamored for more people to be charged to reduce his prison sentence,” he said. “It is a grotesque and shameless abuse of their wealth and makes them responsible for the damages they have all conducted, in my opinion.”

Dorworth’s lawsuit, filed in April, alleges that Greenberg and others falsely attempted to accuse him of “sex trafficking, sex with a minor, prostitution, obstruction of justice.”

Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing and was cleared by the Justice Department, but the deposition could force him to answer questions under oath about allegations that he had sex with a minor.

Greenberg’s attorney, Fritz Scheller, wrote in a motion to dismiss Dorworth’s lawsuit that his claim that Greenberg “colluded” with the underage victim, identified only as AB in court filings, was false.

“To accept the Plaintiff’s RICO claim, one must accept a series of irrational premises that provide its foundation,” Scheller wrote. “That is, that Joel Greenberg colluded with his victim AB to falsely implicate the Plaintiff to reduce the former’s criminal liability or alternatively so AB could bring a civil lawsuit against Gaetz and the Plaintiff.”

The Republican-led House Ethics Committee is also investigating the now-dismissed Justice Department allegation that included Gaetz’s being involved in sex trafficking and potential lobbying violations.

Greenberg told investigators that Gaetz and others participated in the same sex crimes that led him to be sent to federal prison, cooperation that initially delayed his sentencing and reduced the number of charges he was facing, but U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell ultimately said Greenberg was among the most corrupt public officials he had ever encountered.

“I have never seen a defendant who has committed so many different types of crimes in such a relatively short period of time,” he said at Greenberg's sentencing hearing.