The scandal engulfing Matt Gaetz, one of Donald Trump’s brashest supporters in Congress, deepened on Friday after an associate admitted sex trafficking involving a minor and agreed to cooperate with investigators.
Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector in Florida, said he and unidentified others paid a 17-year-old girl for sex and he provided the girl with drugs, according to court papers cited by multiple media outlets.
Greenberg, 37, is expected to plead guilty to six federal charges, including financial crimes, in court in Orlando on Monday. He could be a pivotal witness if prosecutors charge Gaetz, 39, over an alleged sexual relationship with the 17-year-old girl.
Citing an anonymous source, the New York Times reported that Greenberg has told investigators Gaetz had sex with the girl and knew she was being paid. Gaetz denies all accusations and has said he will not resign from Congress.
Greenberg said he recruited women for commercial sex acts between 2016 and 2018 and paid them more than $70,000, court documents say. He also admits providing drugs to an underage girl and introducing her to “other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts”.
Prosecutors say Greenberg met the girl online, where she was posing as an adult, then met her on a boat, paying her $400. He later invited her to hotels where he and others had sex with her, and supplied the girl and other people with ecstasy, according to the plea deal.
Greenberg allegedly had sex with the girl at least seven times and “also introduced the Minor to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts with the Minor”.
Prosecutors say Greenberg used his position as Seminole county tax collector to access a state database and “investigate” women he was having sex with. He searched for the underage girl because he “had reason to believe the Minor was under the age of 18”, the plea agreement says.
Greenberg was arrested last summer on charges of stalking a political opponent. According to an indictment, he mailed fake letters to the school where the opponent taught, signed by a non-existent “very concerned student” who alleged the teacher engaged in sexual misconduct with another student.
In August, Greenberg was charged with sex trafficking a girl between ages 14 and 17 and using the state database to look up information about the girl and others with whom he was engaged in “sugar daddy” relationships.
Charges that he embezzled $400,000 from his office were added earlier this year. Investigators have also been looking at whether Gaetz and associates tried to secure government jobs for some of the women, the Associated Press said, citing anonymous sources.
They are also reportedly scrutinising Gaetz’s connections to medical marijuana interests, including whether associates sought to influence legislation he sponsored.
Gaetz has faced calls to resign. The House of Representatives’ ethics committee launched an investigation last month.
Harlan Hill, a spokesman for Gaetz, said: “The first indictment of Joel Greenberg alleges that he falsely accused another man of sex with a minor for his own gain. That man was apparently innocent. So is Congressman Gaetz.”
Gaetz has maintained a high profile, including a rally last week with Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right congresswoman from Georgia who has trafficked in conspiracy theories and advocated violence against political opponents.
Democrats in control of the House stripped Greene’s committee assignments. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican minority leader, has not taken action against Greene or Gaetz.
While Trump was in power, the Daily Beast reported, Greenberg allegedly sought a pardon via the Republican strategist Roger Stone, in exchange for $250,000. Stone acknowledged the approach but denied seeking or receiving payment.
No pardon was forthcoming but cooperation with prosecutors could reduce Greenberg’s sentence – and land Gaetz in trouble. After a hearing in Florida last month, Greenberg’s lawyer told reporters: “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.”
The judge at that hearing set a 15 May deadline for any plea agreement. Signed on 12 May, the agreement became public two days later.
Earlier this month, Anna Eskamani, a Democratic Florida state representative who made public a strange voicemail message left by Gaetz and Greenberg, told the Guardian: “It’s not like Matt Gaetz created bro culture, but he absolutely benefited from it, exploited it and is being protected by it today.
“It’s slimy characters, tons of money, inappropriate use of power when it comes to lavish trips, and the use of sex and drugs to also exhibit your power. It’s just gross all around.
“There is no doubt in my mind that there will be charges he will face. I think it’s going to take time for the [Department of Justice] to build that case, but I feel confident there will be consequences for his behaviour.”