Gaetz associate pleads guilty to sex trafficking charges

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Florida politician who emerged as a central figure in the Justice Department’s sex trafficking investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz pleaded guilty Monday to six federal charges and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of a plea deal.

Joel Greenberg, a longtime associate of Gaetz, appeared in federal court in Orlando. He pleaded guilty to six of the nearly three dozen charges he faced, including sex trafficking of a minor, and he admitted that he had paid at least one underage girl to have sex with him and other men.

Gaetz was not mentioned in the plea agreement or during the court hearing. But Greenberg’s cooperation — as a key figure in the investigation and a close ally of Gaetz — may escalate the potential legal and political liability that the firebrand Florida congressman is facing.

Federal prosecutors are examining whether Gaetz and Greenberg paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, according to two people familiar with the matter. Investigators have also been looking at whether Gaetz and his associates tried to secure government jobs for some of the women, the people said. They are also scrutinizing Gaetz’s connections to the medical marijuana sector, including whether his associates sought to influence legislation Gaetz sponsored.

The people had knowledge of the investigation but were not allowed to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

Gaetz has denied the allegations and any accusation of wrongdoing and has said repeatedly he will not resign from Congress. A spokesman for the congressman has said Gaetz “never had sex with a minor and has never paid for sex.”

Michael Balsamo And Mike Schneider, The Associated Press