ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A former Florida tax collector whose arrest on sex trafficking and identity theft charges led to a probe of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz should get his sentence reduced for cooperating with authorities, but he still deserves prison time to send a message that no public official is above the law, federal prosecutors said in court papers.
Former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg is facing a 12-year prison sentence when he is sentenced in federal court in Orlando, Florida in two weeks. But he has been cooperating with federal agents and has provided assistance in several probes, leading prosecutors to ask for a reduced sentence. However, no other reasons should be considered for any other downward departures, prosecutors said in court papers filed this month.
The court filings from prosecutors didn't specify how many years in prison Greenberg's sentence should be adjusted if his cooperation is part of the calculation. Prosecutors said it should be reduced by 10 levels in the federal guidelines, which assigns a base offense level for each type of crime.
“It thus appears that the only thing that can be done to protect the public from Greenberg, and to deter him from future criminal conduct, is for him to remain in prison,” prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum filed this week. “This will serve to deter Greenberg from future criminal conduct, but will also send a message to others, that public officials are not above the law.”
Greenberg is facing sentencing on six federal crimes, including sex trafficking of a child, identity theft, stalking, wire fraud and conspiracy to bribe a public official. Prosecutors said he had paid at least one underage girl to have sex with him and other men. Greenberg pleaded guilty to the charges last year.
Greenberg’s cooperation could play a role in the ongoing probe into Gaetz, who is being investigated over whether he paid a 17-year-old for sex. Gaetz has denied the allegations and previously said they were part of an extortion plot. Gaetz, a Republican, represents a large part of the Florida Panhandle. No charges have been brought against the congressman.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell agreed to prosecutors' request to seal court papers dealing with an ongoing, unnamed investigation. The request was made “in order to safeguard from public scrutiny certain sensitive information regarding pending criminal investigations which would come to light were the proceedings to become public knowledge," prosecutors said.
The Greenberg plea agreement said the former tax collector admitted being “involved in what are sometimes referred to as ‘sugar daddy’ relationships where he paid women for sex, but attempted to disguise the payments as ‘school-related’ expenses or other living expenses.”
Greenberg has been linked to a number of other Florida politicians and their associates. So far, none of them has been implicated by name in the sex trafficking probe.
Greenberg attorney Fritz Scheller said in court papers this week that the reduced sentence request by prosecutors is insufficient given that Greenberg's cooperation has led to investigations or prosecutions of seven people. Scheller asked the judge for a greater reduction of 16 levels.
“At this point, his cooperation has led to multiple federal indictments and convictions, with more to come," Scheller said.
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Mike Schneider, The Associated Press