The Justice Department’s investigation into Matt Gaetz and an indicted Florida tax collector is focusing on alleged involvement with multiple women who were recruited online and paid cash. Text messages and payment receipts have been reviewed by the New York Times.
According to three people with knowledge of the encounters, Joel Greenberg met the women through websites for people who go on dates in exchange for gifts, fine dining, and travel allowances. Greenberg introduced the women to Matt Gaetz, who also had sex with them. One of the women said she also agreed to have sex with an unnamed Florida Republican.
The DOJ is also investigating whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and whether she was the recipient of gifts. The sex trafficking charge against Greenberg involves the same girl.
The Times has reviewed receipts from Cash App, a mobile payments app, and Apple Pay that show payments from Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Greenberg to one of the women, and a payment from Mr. Greenberg to a second woman. The women told their friends that the payments were for sex with the two men, according to two people familiar with the conversations.
Some of the men and women took the drug ecstasy before having sex, including Gaetz.
Gaetz asked some of the women to help find more women who would have sex with him and his friends, and told them to say that he had paid for their hotel rooms and dinners if asked about their relationships.
It is not illegal to provide adults with free hotel stays, meals and other gifts, but if prosecutors think they can prove that the payments to the women were for sex, they could accuse Mr. Gaetz of trafficking the women under “force, fraud or coercion.” For example, prosecutors have filed trafficking charges against people suspected of providing drugs in exchange for sex because feeding another person’s drug habit could be seen as a form of coercion.
Federal child sex trafficking laws also dictate that providing anyone under 18 with meals, hotels, drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes in exchange for sex is illegal and its conviction carries a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence.
Gaetz insisted earlier this week that he was the subject not the target of an FBI investigation, saying that “I only know that it has to do with women. I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
Gaetz also claimed that he and his father were targets of an extortion plot.
Robert Kent, a former Air Force intelligence officer who runs a consulting business, and Stephen Alford, a real estate developer who has been convicted of fraud — approached Mr. Gaetz’s father, Don Gaetz, about funding their efforts to locate Robert A. Levinson, an American hostage held in Iran.
There was a proposal reviewed by the New York Times that these men suggested that Levinson’s return could secure a pardon for Matt Gaetz if he were ever charged with federal crimes. Don Gaetz then contacted the FBI and his lawyer, wore a wire and recorded a conversation with Mr. Alford.
Mr. Kent denied the Gaetzes’ assertions. He said he had heard rumors that Matt Gaetz might be under investigation and mentioned them only to sweeten his proposal. “I told him I’m not trying to extort, but if this were true, he might be interested in doing something good,” Mr. Kent said in an interview.
The Trump administration had notified the Levinson family that Mr. Levinson, a forber FBI agent, had died while in captivity, but Mr. Kent continued to believe Levinson was still alive. When Kent heard that Gaetz was tying the Levinson case to an extortion plot, he was stunned and suggested Gaetz was throwing the Levinson family under the bus to divert attention from himself.
Don Gaetz also taped a phone call and a meeting with David McGee, a Levinson family lawyer, where they discussed the rescue proposal. In an interview, Mr. McGee denied any involvement and suggested Matt Gaetz was conflating the matter inappropriately with his own potential criminal liability.
“He’s trying to distract attention from a pending tidal wave that is about to sink his ship,” Mr. McGee said.