ORLANDO, Fla. — Joel Greenberg, the disgraced former Seminole County tax collector who resigned in June, appeared in federal court Monday morning and pleaded guilty to six felony crimes – including sex trafficking of a child – after striking a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Greenberg was led into court by U.S. Marshals and appeared in a dark colored jail jumpsuit, shackled at the wrists and ankles and flanked by two attorneys. He spoke succinctly during the hearing, responding with one or two words to questions from a magistrate judge.

In all, Greenberg faced 33 federal charges. But prosecutors will drop the other 27 counts against him. Greenberg also pleaded guilty to identity theft, stalking, wire fraud and conspiracy to bribe a public official.

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Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg talks to the Orlando Sentinel during an interview at his office in Lake Mary, Fla. in 2019. Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP

He could be sentenced to at least 12 years in prison. Greenberg will be required to register as a sex offender when he is released, according to the plea agreement.

Magistrate Judge Leslie R. Hoffman said Greenberg’s sentencing would likely be set within 75 days. His cooperation with federal authorities will be a factor in Greenberg’s sentence, and prosecutors could also seek a reduction in his sentence later if he continues to cooperate after sentencing.

The agreement specifies that Greenberg will have to cooperate with any investigation by prosecutors.

It has been reported that federal authorities are looking into whether U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a friend of Greenberg’s, had sex with the same 17-year-old Greenberg was accused of trafficking or paid for sex and travel with escorts.

Gaetz has said several times that he has never paid for sex or had sex with someone underage. Gaetz’s name does not appear in Greenberg’s plea deal.

Greenberg had been meeting with federal prosecutors since last November. If the information he presents is useful and of “substantial assistance” to them, prosecutors will recommend a lower prison sentence, according to the agreement.

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Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., addresses the crowd during a President Donald Trump campaign rally at the Ocala International Airport in Ocala, Fla. in October 2020. Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

The plea agreement also states that Greenberg will also forfeit at least $654,780 in assets he obtained through his illegal acts.

In the agreement, Greenberg admitted to paying more than $70,000, including with his American Express card from the Tax Collector’s Office, over two years to women for sex that he met on web sites. And one of the people Greenberg paid for sex was 17 years old.

Greenberg also would take old driver’s licenses turned in by residents and create fake new ones for himself. He would also offer women he paid for sex the use of driver’s licenses that he took from the Tax Collector’s Office.

Prosecutors also said that Greenberg used his public office as his personal bank account, giving himself personal loans with public money. He would then use the money to trade cryptocurrency.

The plea agreement marks one of the final chapters in Greenberg’s short but stunning political life. He won the county-wide office as a 31-year-old political newcomer in 2016, defeating longtime incumbent Ray Valdes.

But on his first day in office – Jan. 3, 2017 – Greenberg began using his public position to illegally manipulate information to cover his tracks for having created a fake IDs nearly two years before, according to the plea agreement.

He also handed out millions of dollars in public money to friends and political associates by creating positions for them within the Tax Collector’s Office.

He posted anti-Muslim messages on social media. He armed many of his top-level managers with firearms. And he proposed a scheme – later rejected by state officials – to sell off the branch offices of the Tax Collector’s Office and then use the money to buy run-down shopping centers.

Greenberg filed to run for re-election in early 2020. But he was arrested and charged on June 23 and resigned a day later.

He has been held at the Orange County Jail without bond.

Monday’s hearing was attended by one of Greenberg’s victims, Brian Beute, a teacher at Trinity Preparatory School who filed to run against Greenberg for tax collector.

Authorities say Greenberg embarked on a smear campaign against Beute, sending anonymous letters to Trinity Prep falsely alleging that the teacher had sexually abused a student, while also establishing social media profiles in Beute’s name that falsely portrayed him as a white supremacist.

Beute on Monday called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to expand state oversight of tax collectors in light of Greenberg’s numerous misdeeds while in office.

“We’re here because there’s no oversight,” Beute said. “This should have been seen a long time ago.”

 

Orlando Sentinel staff writer Jeff Weiner contributed.


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