It's been nearly two months since the New York Times first reported that the Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., over allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a minor, possibly violating federal sex trafficking laws in the process. As we've discussed, the scope of the scandal surrounding the Florida Republican has grown considerably since the initial revelations.
For the beleaguered congressman, matters may soon get a little worse. NBC News reports:
The former Florida tax official whose criminal case spawned the sex trafficking investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz is expected to plead guilty, court filings show. Joel Greenberg, the former Seminole County tax collector, had previously pleaded not guilty to several charges, including stalking, wire fraud and sex trafficking of a minor. But it was revealed in court last month that Greenberg had been in talks with prosecutors to plead guilty.
The report added that Greenberg's plea hearing is scheduled for Monday morning in Orlando. We don't yet know exactly what charge (or charges) Greenberg will plead guilty to, and a federal judge would have to sign off on any agreement.
For those who may need a refresher, let's review how we arrived at this point.
At the center of Matt Gaetz's controversy is one of the congressman's close friends: Joel Greenberg, an almost comically scandalous figure, who has been indicted on a variety of crimes, "including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, at least one of whom was an underage girl." (Gaetz has also reportedly described him as a "wingman.")
It was the investigation into Greenberg that reportedly led to scrutiny of the Republican lawmaker.
As we've discussed, there was reporting last month that Greenberg would recruit women online, and then introduce them to Gaetz for sex. Politico added in April, "The two shared more than one girlfriend, according to interviews with eight friends and associates who know the two men. Gaetz described Greenberg as a 'wingman' to some acquaintances.... Now some suspect Greenberg might be cooperating with prosecutors to build a case against Gaetz."
It was that last point that was of particular interest. We know that Gaetz is dealing with an ongoing Justice Department investigation, in part because the congressman has already acknowledged the probe. If Greenberg -- who has first-hand knowledge of Gaetz's alleged wrongdoing -- has begun cooperating with prosecutors, it would suggest the GOP lawmaker has reason to be concerned.
It was against that backdrop that we learned last month that Greenberg was preparing to plead guilty as part of an agreement with prosecutors. There was a brief hearing in an Orlando courtroom on April 8, during which both sides -- the federal prosecutor and Greenberg's defense attorney -- agreed that the case was likely to be resolved with a plea deal. The lawyers had until May 15 to work something out before a possible trial, and it now appears that an agreement is complete.
Greenberg's lawyer briefly spoke to reporters outside the courtroom at the time and said, in unsubtle terms, "I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today." A Politico report added that the GOP lawmaker's legal peril appeared to have "increased sharply," and the developments signaled "potentially serious trouble for Gaetz."
The congressman's scandal faded from headlines for a while. It appears that's about to change.