IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

What Joel Greenberg's guilty plea agreement means for Matt Gaetz

The plea deal involves Greenberg's cooperation with the government in not just his case but in other cases, too.

News broke last week that former Florida county tax collector Joel Greenberg would enter a change of plea to his 33-count federal indictment Monday. Speculation immediately arose about whether Greenberg's shift will mean that Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., faces an imminent federal indictment of his own. And reading through the 86-page plea agreement filed with the court Friday, I wonder the same, as the facts don't look great for Gaetz.

According to the plea agreement, Greenberg will plead guilty to six charges, including sex trafficking of a child, production of a false ID, wire fraud and stalking. In exchange, the federal government will dismiss 27 other counts. It also includes almost 40 pages that explicitly detail the facts and circumstances behind each of the counts to which Greenberg will plead guilty.

That includes how Greenberg met the 17-year-old girl mentioned in the first charge, who is referred to as the "Minor," via a website that connects "sugar daddies" with "sugar babies," and on which the Minor said she was an adult. The Minor and Greenberg met at hotels "often with others" to engage in commercial sex acts, and Greenberg introduced the Minor to "other adult men" who also engaged in commercial sex acts with her, the agreement says. Using his access to an official database, Greenberg was able to confirm that the Minor was actually under age 18. (Under the applicable federal statute, a "commercial sex act" is defined as "any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.")

Knowing that a "bigger fish" like Gaetz could be on the line, federal authorities will have vetted Greenberg's information to determine its veracity before offering him the plea deal.

The agreement doesn't identify the "other adult men," but Gaetz is reported to have boasted of the "access to women that Joel provided," as a person involved in Florida politics told The Washington Post. To be clear, Gaetz has repeatedly denied that he has ever had sexual relations or any romantic relationship with a minor or that he has paid for sex.

But if the evidence implicates Gaetz in having solicited sex with a minor, he could be prosecuted under the same federal anti-trafficking statute that the feds have deployed against Greenberg. Gaetz also could be charged with a violation of the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting any woman or girl across state lines for the purpose of prostitution or sexual activity. There is an enhanced penalty if the victim is under 18.

Section 11 of the plea agreement will also probably be an issue for Gaetz. In that section, Greenberg agrees to "cooperate fully with the United States in the investigation and prosecution of other persons" and to testify "fully and truthfully before any federal court proceeding or federal grand jury in connection with the charges in this case and other matters." It further says Greenberg's cooperation will include a "full and complete disclosure of all relevant information, including production of any and all books, papers, documents, and other objects in [his] possession or control, and to be reasonably available for interviews which the United States may require." If he knowingly holds back or lies, Greenberg can be prosecuted for perjury, and the federal government can prosecute him for any of the soon-to-be-dismissed charges.

It's worth understanding how we got to this point. Federal prosecutors and law enforcement investigators have met with Greenberg several times pursuant to a "queen for a day letter" — a written agreement between prosecutors and defendants that allows defendants to preview their knowledge about criminal activities without their words' being used against them. Greenberg will have been accompanied by his defense attorney, and the meetings and interviews are likely to have occurred at the prosecutors' office, with investigators also present.

Prosecutors will have provided Greenberg with the opportunity to divulge his information, data and knowledge not only about the offenses he was charged with but also about other crimes he might know about. This inevitably will implicate others, and Greenberg would have to provide names.

But Greenberg's statements won't have gone by without the government's pushing him for independent and objective corroboration. And, knowing that a "bigger fish" like Gaetz could be on the line, federal authorities will have vetted Greenberg's information to determine its veracity before offering him the plea deal.

Greenberg must tread carefully and, more importantly, he must tread honestly if he expects to get the full benefit of this agreement. On the line for him is a reduction in the federal government's suggested sentence should his cooperation qualify as "substantial assistance." Obviously, the litmus test for that "substantial assistance" will be the quality and the value of the information he provides, including honest and truthful testimony and the production of legitimate documents that back up his claims.

We can't know yet for sure whether Greenberg is telling the whole truth. But as often happens when defendants cooperate with prosecutors, his presumptive credibility had to be established before prosecutors even contemplated offering a plea deal — especially one in which the defendant is given the chance to plead to only six out of 33 counts.

Anyone who is implicated by Greenberg's cooperation will aggressively attack his alleged credibility and is likely to cite Greenberg's previous conduct as evidence that he is a proven liar and fraudster. But for Greenberg, as Mark Twain said, "if you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." If Greenberg is telling the truth, he won't have anything about to worry about. Gaetz, on the other hand? That's a different story.