September 24, 2023

ORLANDO, Fla. — A Florida tax collector who has been cooperating with the Justice Department in its sex trafficking investigation into Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, was sentenced on Thursday by a federal judge to 11 years in prison.

The tax collector, Joel Greenberg, had faced up to nearly three decades in prison for a litany of crimes he had committed, including trafficking a 17-year-old girl, stalking a political rival and stealing $400,000 in taxpayer money to buy cryptocurrencies and sports memorabilia. But in the hope of receiving a lesser sentence, he had cooperated with the government in a series of investigations, including into Mr. Gaetz.

“He has provided substantial cooperation to the government — more than I’ve seen in 22 years,” Judge Gregory A. Presnell said.

But the judge also excoriated Mr. Greenberg’s behavior.

“In 22 years, I’ve never experienced a case like this,” Judge Presnell said, adding, “I have never seen a defendant who has committed so many different types of crimes in such a short period.”

It is not clear what the sentencing means for the Justice Department’s investigation of Mr. Gaetz, who is a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump and has been under investigation for over a year and a half but has not been charged with a crime.

Mr. Greenberg has told federal authorities that he witnessed Mr. Gaetz have sex with the 17-year-old girl and that she was paid. In documents filed in connection with Mr. Greenberg’s sentencing, the Justice Department said he had “provided truthful and timely information” that led to the charging of at least four other people and “provided substantial assistance on other matters” that the government would address only in a sealed filing.

But there are several hurdles to bringing a case against Mr. Gaetz, who has denied any wrongdoing. Among the challenges is that the girl has said she does not believe she was a victim, according to a person briefed on the matter.

Mr. Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, has complained that the Justice Department has not charged those Mr. Greenberg implicated in the sex trafficking. Such a prosecution would have highlighted the benefits of Mr. Greenberg’s cooperation when it came to sentencing him.

In documents filed with the court in the lead-up to Mr. Greenberg’s sentencing, Mr. Scheller said the Justice Department was unwilling to charge those whom Mr. Greenberg implicated despite trying to put Mr. Greenberg behind bars for more than a decade.

“If the government is so concerned with general deterrence, then why hasn’t it prosecuted the other individuals, including public figures, who were also involved in Greenberg’s offenses?” Mr. Scheller said. “Indeed, Greenberg’s plea agreement refers to the involvement of multiple co-conspirators, including individuals involved in his sex offense.” He added that Mr. Greenberg’s account had been corroborated “by other witnesses and records.”

Mr. Greenberg came from a well-to-do Florida family that owned a chain of dentist offices. In court on Thursday, Mr. Scheller said Mr. Greenberg struggled as a child with emotional and attention deficit issues, which he said led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder later in life.

As an adult, Mr. Greenberg tried to make it as a businessman but failed. He struggled with addiction issues but won election in 2016 in Seminole County, Fla., as its tax collector, portraying himself as a local version of Mr. Trump who could root out corruption.

But almost immediately, he started to use taxpayer money to pay for sex as he tried to ingratiate himself with up-and-coming Republicans in Florida state politics, by providing them with drugs and access to women and girls. His behavior continued to spin out of control until he was arrested in June 2020.

Mr. Scheller said Mr. Greenberg’s conduct was “bold, brazen, undeterrable but also manic” and that his behavior cannot be looked at without considering his “long history of mental health” issues.

Roger B. Handberg, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, depicted Mr. Greenberg in court as a hardened criminal who never did the job he was elected to.

“He was not deterred when he found himself under criminal investigation,” Mr. Handberg said, adding, “He was not deterred when he was brought into this building.”

Mr. Greenberg, in a dark blue jumpsuit, spoke briefly at his sentencing.

“Nothing I say can justify my actions,” he said. “My conduct was so shameful. I feel such remorse for what I’ve done.”

He added: “To the minor, I apologize. To the people of Seminole County, I betrayed your trust. I also have deep sorrow for what I put my family through — to my mother and father, to my ex-wife and especially my children. I deserve punishment no matter how long that may be.”

The judge also sentenced Mr. Greenberg to 10 years of supervised release after he has completed his time in prison.

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