Did Gaetz Get Away With It?
Voting in Florida’s congressional primaries was a pretty limp affair Tuesday— except in the socially backward red district in the panhandle next to Alabama, FL-01. That’s Matt Gaetz’s district and he had two Republican challengers, Mark Lombardo and Greg Merk. Gaetz won— in a landslide (69.7%). But what stood out to me were the raw numbers. 105,191 people voted in the GOP primary and Gaetz got 73,325 votes. No congressional primary in the state attracted as many voters— most hade around 40-50,000 voters— and no congressional candidate in the state got as many votes. By way of illustration, the congressional race that got the most attention in the media, the Democratic race in Orlando (FL-10), drew 55,490 voters and the winner, Maxwell Frost, got 19,271 votes. In the 16th district, where Republican incumbent Vern Buchanan, a mainstream conservative, was challenged by drooling Nazi psychopath Martin Hyde, there was also a high turnout— 74,188 voters, which 63,982 of them casting ballots for Buchanan. No doubt about it: Matt Gaetz is a political star in his district. Instead of shunning him for his political extremism or because of the sex trafficking charges swirling around him, his constituents have embraced him as a hero.
And what about those charges? What ever became of that? Why hasn’t Gaetz been indicted and arrested? This morning, the Daily Beast took a look and suggests this may be the quiet before the storm for Gaetz and that the underage sex trafficking charges probe is anything but over. A trio of Daily Beast reporters wrote that “the case is still unfolding— albeit at a methodical pace— as federal prosecutors work their way across a number of spokes of possible criminality. While each zone has its own sets of witnesses, subjects, and targets, all of it spirals out from one man: a crooked local tax official and Gaetz’s former ‘wingman,’ Joel Greenberg.”
Lyle Mazin, a criminal defense attorney who represents a witness in the case: “If you’re going after a monster, you have to get it right— especially when you have a bunch of Trump supporters who’ll come after you.” The expectation is that more months will go by before the case is ready for prime time— certainly not before the election.
The investigation into Gaetz himself is only one item in an expanding queue. The probe of Greenberg alone has uncovered so many layers of public corruption in Central Florida that investigators have had to peel them apart one by one: illicit real estate deals; embezzlement of federal COVID-19 paycheck assistance; a local Republican scheme to run “ghost” candidates; a public corruption plot involving a number of powerful state figures; and ultimately the sex trafficking investigation involving the congressman himself.
In late 2020, while Greenberg was angling for a presidential pardon, he wrote a confession letter— obtained exclusively by the Daily Beast— detailing the way Gaetz would use him as a middleman to pay for sex with young women and at least one underage girl. Greenberg’s non-public Venmo payments— also obtained exclusively by the Daily Beast— reflected that arrangement. In one example, Gaetz paid his buddy $900, writing in one memo field, “hit up ___,” using a nickname for the formerly underage girl, who by then had just turned 18.
Greenberg was charged with trafficking that teen in August 2020. The Daily Beast confirmed that the FBI opened its investigation into Gaetz the same month.
After confessing to the trafficking a minor charge last May, Greenberg struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors in Orlando. Since then, investigators have been using the information he shared to target his accomplices one at a time.
In May, the region’s state attorney criminally charged Seminole County Republican Party chair Ben Paris and two others for hatching a scheme to run a non-existent “ghost” candidate. The operation drew votes away from Democratic candidate Patricia Sigman and propelled Republican candidate and Gaetz ally Jason Brodeur into the Florida state senate. (The Gaetz campaign donated to Brodeur months after the victory.) On Tuesday, state prosecutors filed documents in court indicating that Greenberg was going to be a witness in the trial, which starts Monday.)
In January, Handberg’s team of local federal prosecutors secured a guilty plea from a tag-along to the alleged Gaetz-Greenberg underage sex trafficking: a former radio shock jock and Greenberg associate named “Big Joe” Ellicott. Ellicott revealed intimate knowledge of the sexual crimes in text messages exclusively obtained by the Daily Beast. He was also allegedly present at a pivotal moment when Greenberg phoned the congressman to let him know that one of the teens they’d allegedly paid for sex was underage, The Daily Beast previously reported.
Weeks before that, Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend testified before the grand jury, reportedly under an immunity deal. The ex-girlfriend, considered a witness to possible obstruction charges against Gaetz, reportedly feared that the teen at the center of the probe had taped her in conversations with Gaetz and other women in Dec. 2020— around the time federal agents seized both her phone and the congressman’s.
In Nov. 2021, two months before Gaetz’s ex testified, Handberg’s team indicted two Greenberg associates for fleecing an investor out of $12 million in a real estate fraud scheme, yet another example of the.many corruption cases bogging down investigators.
Two high-ranking prosecutors at the Department of Justice’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.— Todd Gee and Lauren Britsch— have led the Gaetz portion of the investigation, according to sources who have interacted with them. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in Orlando— Roger Handberg, Jennifer Harrington, and Amanda Daniels— continue to investigate local elements of overlapping crime rings.
For some involved in the case as witnesses or potential targets of the larger sex trafficking investigation, it’s been months since they’ve heard from prosecutors. A Gaetz-Greenberg associate who was allegedly involved in drug-fueled sex parties has not heard from the federal grand jury in nearly a year, according to a person familiar with his situation. A key witness who knew about the underage sex trafficking and testified before that grand jury has been in the dark for months, according to another person familiar with her situation.
“This is the most quiet this whole deal has been,” said one witness who first alerted the Secret Service to potential criminal behavior by the congressman.
The calm is starting to frustrate more than a dozen witnesses and attorneys who represent people at odds with Gaetz or Greenberg, although most said they remain hopeful.
“We know for a fact that there are dozens of other actors who were involved in drug-fueled sex parties with underage girls and other criminal financial schemes. If at the end of the day only two or three people are held to account by the feds, that would be a real miscarriage of justice and transparency,” said David Bear, an Orlando attorney who has advised several people who would consider themselves victims of Greenberg’s abuse of power while in office.
In another signal of the investigation’s scope and progress, three sources told the Daily Beast that prosecutors turned their attention to Tallahassee this spring. According to the sources, this previously unreported action involved interviews with possible witnesses and subjects in connection to another spoke of the Gaetz case— an alleged public corruption scheme to influence marijuana policy, said to involve state officials.
Gaetz is also reportedly part of that inquiry. There, federal prosecutors with the DOJ’s public integrity unit are reportedly examining whether a group of men provided gifts including marijuana and prostitutes during a 2018 trip to the Bahamas in exchange for political favors.
Overall, the limited amount of public prosecutorial action has— after an explosive two months of headlines last year— left many outside observers curious, confused, and skeptical.
Some, like Mark Lombardo, are annoyed. The Vietnam veteran and FedEx executive lost against Gaetz in the Republican primary on Tuesday. He told the Daily Beast that the sex trafficking investigation against the congressman “played a factor” in his decision to file campaign paperwork in June, and believes an indictment would have saved him a million dollars in campaign spending.
“If you’re asking me whether I’m frustrated, of course I am,” Lombardo said. “I thought he’d be long gone… the wheels of justice don’t grind very fast.”
Last night I heard a snippet of chatter on MSNBC before I turned off the TV and went to sleep. Someone was talking about the "danger to America of Donald Trump" and I thought that it wasn't so much Trump that is a danger as it is the zombies who follow him. That could well apply to those 73,325 assholes in the Panhandle who voted for Gaetz Tuesday. If those 73,325 assholes didn't exist...
Gore would have beaten Bush in 2000 and would have been president
Charlie Crist would have beaten Rick Scott for governor in 2014
Andrew Gillum would have beaten Ron DeSantis for governor in 2018
Bill Nelson would have been reelected Senator (over Rick Scott) in 2018
Florida should cede the Panhandle to Alabama. The state-- and the country-- would be way better off. And the people who live there would probably be much happier as Alabamans.