ORLANDO, Fla. – Multiple people associated with Joel Greenberg are likely concerned after court documents show the former Seminole County tax collector struck a deal with federal prosecutors.
In the 86-page plea agreement signed by Greenberg, he admits to paying a minor for sex and arranging for her to have sex with other men for money and conspiring with a Small Business Administrator employee to obtain more than $430,000 in federal loans meant for struggling businesses.
Greenberg is expected to plead guilty Monday to six federal charges: sex trafficking of a child, production of a false document, aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, stalking and conspiracy to commit an offense against the U.S. The reduced charges from 33 down to six is part of a plea deal in exchange for his cooperation of an ongoing federal investigation, according to court documents released Friday. His plea change hearing is Monday at 10 a.m. in Orlando federal court.
As part of the deal, the federal government will dismiss the rest of the 27 charges against Greenberg for his cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of other persons. Greenberg will also agree to testify during any federal court proceedings. His cooperation also includes disclosing any evidence or relevant information to the investigation.
None of the people prosecutors say collaborated with Greenberg are mentioned by name in the plea agreement but as co-conspirators.
His cooperation as a close associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz (Florida-R) signals a significant escalation in the Justice Department’s investigation and potentially raises the legal and political jeopardy the Florida congressman is facing.
Federal prosecutors have been examining whether Gaetz and Greenberg paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, according to people familiar with the matter. The plea agreement makes no mention of Gaetz, who has vehemently denied the allegations and any wrongdoing and has insisted he will not resign his seat in Congress.
The judge still needs to accept Greenberg’s plea deal Monday.
Greenberg met teen girl on ‘Sugar Daddy’ website, introduced her to other men
On the sex trafficking charge, Greenberg said he met young women through a website advertising “sugar daddy” relationships “where he paid women for sex, but attempted to disguise the payments as ‘school-related’” expenses or other living expenses.
It was in this way Greenberg met a 17-year-old girl, who initially represented herself as an adult through her “sugar baby” profile, according to court documents.
According to the plea agreement, Greenberg had his first in-person meeting with the underage girl on his boat. No sexual acts occurred, but Greenberg paid her roughly $400. The boat meet-up later escalated to hotel room meet-ups, where Greenberg admits to having sex with the minor at least seven different times while she was underage.
Greenberg admits that he would supply the girl and others with ecstasy, sometimes even paying the minor more to take the drug. He also admitted to introducing the minor to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts with the girl.
In the plea agreement, Greenberg admits to using four different payment accounts to pay the minor and other young women for sex, including his personal Venmo account, his personal American Express account, another American Express account paid for by the Tax Collector’s Office, and his personal Fifth Third Bank account. Greenberg sent the payments using memos like “food,” but admits the payments were really for sex.
Greenberg used his Tax Collector American Express account to pay for hotels in Central Florida where he would have sex with the underage girl. He also used access he received as the county tax collector to look up his sexual partners in a Florida database known as DAVID (Driver and Vehicle Information Database). Greenberg admits to running the minor girl through the database because he believed she was under the age of 18. Under DAVID’s user agreement, this was not an authorized reason to look up someone’s personal information and violated the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act.
According to the plea agreement, after Greenberg was arrested, he reached out to the minor girl directly and to one of her friends to see if the minor would lie on his behalf, “because he knew that his commercial sex acts with her were illegal.”
Greenberg spent more than $70,000 in two years paying women for commercial sex acts, according to prosecutors.
Making Fake IDs
The minor was not the only person Greenberg illegally looked up through the DAVID system.
Greenberg used his DAVID access to conduct hundreds of unauthorized searches that had nothing to do with the Tax Collector’s Office.
One of those individuals, named R.Z. in court records, was a person who sold Greenberg a boat. Greenberg used the DAVID system to access that R.Z.’s information to make himself a fake ID. The replacement license was mailed to a P.O. box associated with Greenberg in Longwood. R.Z. never knew what the tax collector had done, according to the plea agreement.
In September 2018, Greenberg used another citizen’s information to make a fake driver’s license. The victim, known as E.J.C.C., came in to replace his Puerto Rico ID with a Florida driver’s license. Greenberg took E.J.C.C.’s old license out of the basket where surrendered IDs were kept to be disposed of and used the information on it and the badge-making machine to make himself a fake ID.
During a raid on Greenberg’s house, federal agents found three IDs in his backpack from Canada, Virginia and Florida. Each was issued to someone other than Greenberg, according to investigators.
Prosecutors say Greenberg continued to steal surrendered driver’s licenses until his last day in office on June 24, 2020.
Collaborating with SBA employee to obtain fraudulent loans
As part of the agreement, Greenberg must also forfeit assets he obtained as the result of wire fraud to the government, totaling more than $654,000. Federal prosecutors write that the funds obtained through wire fraud have been transferred to third parties and cannot be located by the U.S.
Part of those funds were obtained through loans from the federal CARES Act, designed to help small businesses struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the plea agreement, Greenberg conspired with a Small Business Administration employee working in Central Florida and another individual to submit false applications for COVID-19 emergency loans under the CARES Act, according to the plea agreement.
On June 19, 2020, a friend texted Greenberg and said he had an “easy” and “quick” way for Greenberg to get a $160,000 loan and said he should contact the SBA employee. The SBA employee then helped Greenberg use his personal 2018 tax return to apply for a loan, documents show.
In response, Greenberg asked his friend, “How quickly can I blow it all on (expletive)?”using a derogatory word for the female anatomy, documents show.
The SBA loan was accepted on June 20 and Greenberg received his first payment of $2,000 to his personal bank account around June 23, the same day Greenberg was arrested on his first round of federal charges.
On June 24, 2020, the day Greenberg resigned as tax collector, the SBA approved the full amount of the loan for $133,000.
Although Greenberg did not originate the idea, he was recruited into the scheme and participated in it, according to documents. The friend who told Greenberg about the SBA employee said he needed to “cut her (a) check” for her assistance whenever he got the payment. Greenberg made multiple payments to both individuals, documents show.
Despite facing multiple federal charges, Greenberg continued to falsify information and work with the SBA employee to apply for more CARES Act loans, according to the plea agreement. He reinstated two of his previous businesses around June 29 with the purpose to again obtain more fraudulent loans.
In total, Greenberg received $432,700 in fraudulent loans designed to help small businesses during the pandemic.
Falsely claiming a political opponent was a white supremacist
What ultimately may have led to Greenberg’s downfall were his attempts to discredit and harass a Seminole County school teacher who was running against him for tax collector, the plea agreement shows.
Greenberg used the U.S. Mail to send an anonymous letter on Oct. 10, 2019, to the head of the teacher’s school signed by a “very concerned student.” The anonymous letter alleged an inappropriate relationship between the teacher and a student.
The letter included in court documents alleges the teacher had sex with a student, even though Greenberg knew this was false.
Greenberg sent eight other such letters to other faculty members at the school where the victim worked.
The then-tax collector set up a Twitter account in the victim’s name with his photo and posted a series of racial online posts. The profile read, “Music Teacher. Conspiracy Theorist. White Supremacy. Segregationist. Dad. Keep Seminole County White.” He also set up a Facebook account pretending to be a fellow Seminole County teacher.
Greenberg used his home IP address and email address to set up these accounts.
The false allegations made by Greenberg led to an investigation into the victim and were discovered to be false but then to the tax collector.
Using $100,000s of tax payer dollars to buy himself cryptocurrency
According to his plea agreement, Greenberg used tax payer dollars to buy himself Bitcoin.
It started in February 2017 when Greenberg opened up a series of American Express credit cards in the name of the Tax Collector’s Office. He used those cards to purchase thousands of personal items including cryptocurrency.
While Greenberg paid back some of the charges he put on his AmEx, the Tax Collector’s Office still paid for $7,203.94 in cryptocurrency that Greenberg held personally and not on behalf of Seminole County taxpayers.
Greenberg also opened up a secret bank account under the name of “Seminole County Tax Collector” and deposited checks into this account without telling his Chief Financial Officer. One check was for $27,000 and was money the office earned after selling a county-owned vehicle. Other checks were collectively written for thousands of dollars with only the word “transfer” in the memo.
But investigators believe this was only the beginning of Greenberg’s attempt to defraud tax payers. In December 2017, Greenberg requested $100,000 from the Seminole County Tax Collector CFO for a “short term investment” which he believed would “have a much higher yield in 60-90 days”. While Greenberg was technically allowed to invest this much money on behalf of tax payers, he was not allowed to use the money to invest in personal ventures.
However, prosecutors believe that is what Greenberg did. Instead of investing $100,000 in cryptocurrency on behalf of taxpayers, he wired the funds to through several personal accounts before purchasing $100,000 in cryptocurrency, which would later end up in digital asset “wallets” owned by Greenberg.
Eventually, the ousted Tax Collector returned $100,000 to tax payers, but only after a family member wrote him a $90,000 check for a “loan”. The money which actually came from the Tax Collector’s Office remained in Greenberg’s personal accounts.
In December 2018, a year after the $100,000 cryptocurrency purchase, Greenberg defrauded tax payers again using a similar scheme. This time he took $200,000 in tax payer money to purchase cryptocurrency for himself, again concealing the transactions from his CFO.
A few weeks later in January 2019, Greenberg approached a family member and asked for a loan of $200,000. Greenberg admitted to his family member that he had commingled Tax Collector funds and knew he was in “big trouble.” Instead of giving the money back to the Tax Collector’s Office, or even using the loan to pay back the Tax Collector’s Office, Greenberg used the additional $200,000 to purchase even more cryptocurrency for himself.
It wasn’t until April 23, 2019 when Greenberg’s office was served with federal subpoenas for financial records that Greenberg began to panic about the misuse of $200,000. That same day, a family member wrote Greenberg a check for $200,000, money which was used to obtain a cashier’s check made out to the Seminole County Tax Collector.
In the meantime, the $300,000 Greenberg stole from taxpayers to buy cryptocurrency with remained in his digital wallet. Since that time, the value of cryptocurrency has experienced a massive bull run. Greenberg admitted to keeping all of those gains for himself.
Creating LLC to buy and sell bitcoin
In July 2019, Greenberg created Government Blockchain Systems, a Florida-based LLC.
Greenberg told auditors that the company to was to create a Seminole County cryptocurrency, but Greenberg admits that was not true. Instead the company was used “to purchase cryptocurrency for himself, mine cryptocurrency for himself, and sell cryptocurrency machines for which he would keep the funds”.
Greenberg admits to using at least $132,000 of tax payer dollars to purchase cryptocurrency through Government Blockchain Systems. Some of the cryptocurrency went to his personal accounts. But at least $68,000 went to purchase cryptocurrency mining machines which were shipped to the Tax Collector’s Office from China.
Greenberg admitted to selling the same mining machines on Amazon, keeping the proceeds of $79,614.27 for himself.
Other mining machines were set up in the Tax Collector’s Lake Mary branch where the machines ran constantly. The goal? To mine cryptocurrency for Greenberg, not county tax payers.
But a power surge from the machines caused a fire, which resulted in $98,000 in damages.
After Greenberg was indicted, auditors went looking for the mining machines, but they were not able to find any despite the fact that the machines were property of the Seminole County Tax Collector’s Office.
To conceal his fraud, Greenberg lied to his employees and event created false documentation. Greenberg even coded purchases made on his Seminole County Tax Collector credit card as cryptocurrency related, when in fact he bought “an autographed Kobe Bryant basketball ($799)”, “an autographed Kobe Bryant trading card ($1,355)” and “an autographed Michael Jordan photograph ($599.95)”.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.