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Matt Gaetz associate pleads guilty in sex-trafficking case, will cooperate with feds

"Guilty," Joel Greenberg repeatedly said to six of the 33 charges initially filed against him in federal court in Orlando, Florida.

Joel Greenberg, the former Florida tax official whose criminal case led to a sex trafficking investigation of Rep. Matt Gaetz, pleaded guilty Monday to six of the charges against him and acknowledged that he plans to fully cooperate with federal investigators.

Greenberg, in shackles wearing a jail jumpsuit and a blue surgical mask, admitted his guilt to six of the 33 charges that had been filed against him — identity theft, stalking, wire fraud, conspiracy to bribe a public official and sex trafficking of a minor.

Asked by the judge in U.S. District Court in Orlando whether all the counts were factual, he repeatedly said "yes" and "I do."

Greenberg's plea could spell trouble for Gaetz, a Republican who is an outspoken supporter of former President Donald Trump.

Federal officials are looking into whether Greenberg and Gaetz used the internet to find women they could pay for sex and whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a minor he paid to travel with him, The New York Times reported, citing three people briefed on the matter.

Gaetz has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime.

Gaetz appeared to make light of the scandal while speaking to a group of Republican activists over the weekend, saying the accusations are not as bad as the return of earmarks in Congress.

"I'm being falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favors," Gaetz said at the Ohio Political Summit in Strongsville. "Yet, Congress has reinstituted a process that legalizes the corrupt act of exchanging money for favors, through earmarks, and everybody knows that that's the corruption."

Greenberg's plea agreement was filed in court Friday. Documents filed in connection with the agreement do not mention Gaetz, who was not mentioned in court Monday.

Greenberg was remanded into custody pending his sentencing, which will take place later. He faces a mandatory minimum of 12 years in prison, and under the terms of the deal, he will have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution and register as a sex offender.

As part of the deal, Greenberg agreed "to cooperate fully with the United States in the investigation and prosecution of other persons, and to testify, subject to prosecution for perjury or making a false statement, fully and truthfully before any federal court proceeding or federal grand jury in connection with the charges in this case."

Greenberg, a married father of two, admitted to having spent over $70,000 in 150 transactions to pay women for sex from 2016 to 2018. One of the women was under 18 "for part of the time" Greenberg paid her for sex acts "with him and others," he acknowledged in court filings.

Two of the other charges he admitted to were the ones that led to his arrest last year: identity theft and stalking. Prosecutors had charged Greenberg that used the phony identities to smear a teacher who was challenging his re-election campaign for Seminole County tax collector.

Greenberg had falsely accused the rival of having engaged in "sexual misconduct with a student," the Justice Department said.

The teacher, Brian Beute, attended the plea hearing and spoke to reporters beforehand. He thanked his wife and daughters, "who endured the trauma of these dreadfully false allegations."

Beute said that starting just one week after he filed to run for tax collector, "I sustained an eight-month-long string of attacks on my character."

Beute questioned how Greenberg, who also admitted embezzling money from his government job, was able to get away with as much as he did for as long as he did. He called for an investigation of the tax collector's office.

"The state of Florida's oversight system was either complicit with or failed to monitor the Seminole County tax collector office," he said. "Why? Who is responsible for this failure? Under a functional and effective system of checks and balances, it is quite possible some crimes might have been prevented and today's events may never have occurred."