Matt Gaetz discussed putting a third-party candidate into a Florida state Senate race in bid to help his associate win the seat.
Federal investigators are looking into the 2020 Florida state Senate race, the New York Times reported, in which Gaetz’s associate Jason Brodeur, a Republican, ran for the open seat.
It is the latest in a string of allegations against the Trump loyalist who has been accused of having sex and trafficking a 17-year-old girl and showing naked photos of women to his Congressional colleagues.
Gaetz and Florida lobbyist Chris Dorworth talked about putting a third party or ‘ghost’ candidate into the contest to siphon votes from the Democratic opponent to help Brodeur.
Recruiting a third-party candidate, even to funnel votes from another contender, is generally legal, but secretly paying the ‘ghost candidates’ – who are usually paid to make a third-party bid, is usually a violation of campaign finance laws.
In that Florida state Senate race, a third party candidate did appear on the ballot: Jestine Iannotti.
She did little campaigning and raised few funds but fliers depicting her as a Democrat were sent to voters. One featured a stock photo of a Black woman and read: ‘Jestine Iannotti will always be there for us.’ Iannotti is white.
Brodeur, through a spokesperson, told The New York Times he knew nothing about the fliers and had nothing to do with them. Gaetz didn’t comment.
Dorworth told the newspaper that he did not recall a conversation with Gaetz about running a third candidate and that ‘there would be nothing illegal about it if we had,’ so long as they did not pay that person to seek office.
‘I never met the woman who did run,’ Dorworth said. ‘Never spoke to her, communicated by any written device, gave her any money or anything else.’
Brodeur ultimately defeated his Democratic opponent, Patricia Sigman, by 7,600 votes – a sound victory. Iannotti received about 6,000 votes in the contest.
Matt Gaetz discussed putting a third-party candidate into a Florida state Senate race to help an associate of his who was running for the seat in latest allegation
Gaetz associate Jason Brodeur ran for the open Florida state Senate seat and Florida lobbyist Chris Dorworth allegedly talked with Gaetz about putting a third-party candidate on ballot to help Brodeur
The detail is the latest to emerge in the investigation of the Florida congressman, who is battling an series of allegations, including that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl. Gaetz has denied all the charges.
The latest comes as a second senior member of Gaetz’s staff quit.
On Thursday Devin Murphy quit his job as Gaetz’s legislative director, sources told The New York Times.
He told associates that he wanted to write bills, and that working with Gaetz was now similar to working for a tabloid news publication, the Times reports.
Murphy had worked for Gaetz since he came to Congress in 2017.
A source told the paper that Murphy’s departure had not been contentious, and a statement from Gaetz’s office said the two parties agreed ‘it would be best to part ways.’
It came just days after the resignation of Gaetz’s press secretary, Luke Ball.
Also on Thursday night Adam Kinzinger, a Republican congressman for Illinois, became the first member of the Republican Party to call for Gaetz to step down.
Kinzinger has frequently clashed with the pro-Trump wing of his party.
Matt Gaetz, 38, is facing calls to resign from within his own party amid a sex trafficking scandal
Gaetz is facing rapidly-escalating problems stemming from his friendship with fellow Floridian Joel Greenberg, 36.
Greenberg was the tax collector for Seminole County until his arrest in June on a litany of charges, including allegations that he stalked a political opponent, illegally used a state database to create fake IDs and sex-trafficked a minor.
Gaetz has now been sucked into the drama, and is reportedly being investigated for sex trafficking of a minor and prostitution.
It was alleged on Thursday that he paid Greenberg $900 in May 2018, and the following day Greenberg paid three women – none of whom were underage – $900 between them.
Gaetz, a stridently pro-Trump politician, insists he has never paid for sex, and never as an adult had sex with a 17-year-old.
Kinzinger on Thursday night tweeted a link to The Daily Beast story about the $900 payment, saying: ‘Matt Gaetz needs to resign.’
Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger, pictured, has clashed with several pro-Trump figures
Matt Gaetz paid ‘sex trafficker’ Joel Greenberg $900 via Venmo who then forwarded money to three women: Auditors find $300,000 in suspicious or unjustified expenses between the ‘arrogant’ duo
Matt Gaetz made a late-night transaction to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg in May 2018, with Greenberg then transferring the exact same sum to three women, it was reported on Thursday night.
The $900 transaction, made via the app Venmo, was reported by The Daily Beast.
Greenberg, early the next morning, transferred $900 in total to three different women – one of whom is now reportedly working as a porn actress. None of the three were under the age of consent – 18 in Florida – at the time.
Gaetz named one of the women in his reference for the transaction to his friend, using her nickname.
Greenberg’s three transfers to the women were labeled as ‘tuition’ and ‘school’.
Greenberg, currently in jail, is said to be cooperating with prosecutors – in what his lawyer said was bad news for Gaetz.
Auditors also flagged $300,000 in suspicious expenses claimed by Greenberg, the former Seminole County tax collector.
The pair were described by one auditor as being incredibly arrogant.
On Thursday a statement was issued by the ‘women of the office of Congressman Matt Gaetz’
Joel Greenberg (right) is photographed hanging out with Rep. Matt Gaetz (center) and former President Donald Trump’s longtime political adviser Roger Stone (left) in a post from Gaetz’s Facebook account from 2017
Greenberg used his taxpayer-funded credit card for some of the Venmo transactions, The Daily Beast reported.
Greenberg has been federally indicted on 33 counts, including sex trafficking crimes involving a 17-year-old.
Court documents say Greenberg was ‘engaged in ‘sugar daddy’ relationships.’
Gaetz has vehemently denied being involved in sex trafficking, and said he has never paid for sex.
He is yet to respond to questions as to why he paid Greenberg $900, and why that sum was transferred by Greenberg to women.
‘That’s incredibly powerful evidence,’ said David Bear, an attorney who worked for the Orange County State Attorney’s office before setting up a private practice.
‘If you operate through an intermediary you are just as responsible – whether it’s a financial crime or whatever.’
He told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that there was no ‘insulation’ from the charges.
The Daily Beast was able to obtain Greenberg’s credit card data through a public records request, which showed how he used his taxpayer-funded card for unexplained transactions.
‘No one has any idea what he was doing. Zero,’ said Daniel J. O’Keefe, an accountant who conducted a forensic audit for the county.
‘The arrogance of these guys. They just felt they were above the law.
‘I’ve never seen it this bad.’
O’Keefe was particularly puzzled by weekend expenses, hotels, unspecified high-dollar ‘consulting’ fees, and cash advances that Greenberg made to himself and others, he told the site.
Gaetz and Greenberg share two direct Venmo connections with women who received payments from Greenberg.
In 2018, Greenberg paid one of those women several thousand dollars using his Seminole County-issued Wells Fargo Visa card, according to county financial records obtained by The Daily Beast.
Auditors flagged the transactions, saying that, despite having a contract and invoice from the company, they ‘do not know what it was for.’
The bombshell revelations came after Gaetz’s office issued a statement in his defense from who they claim are women working in his office – although not one of the character witnesses has put her name to the testimony.
The 38-year-old Florida congressman, who is fighting off accusations of sex trafficking and prostitution, is pushing back with every means at his disposal.
On Thursday that included a press release signed by the ‘women of the office of U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz’ – who said they felt ‘morally obligated’ to speak out.
‘At no time has any one of us experienced or witnessed anything less than the utmost professionalism and respect,’ the release said.
‘During Congressman Gaetz’s time in office, we have been behind the scenes every step of the way. We have staffed his meetings. We have planned his events. We have traveled with him. And we have tracked his schedule.’
They described him as a ‘principled and morally grounded leader,’ added that none of them had ‘experienced or witnessed anything less than the utmost professionalism and respect. No hint of impropriety. No ounce of untruthfulness.’
The letter continued: ‘In our office and under Congressman Gaetz’s leadership, women are not only respected, but have been encouraged time and time again to grow, achieve more, and ultimately, know our value.’
The nameless women concluded by saying that they ‘uniformly reject these allegations as false’ and that Gaetz has always treated every woman in his office with respect.
The ‘women’ spoke out, as it emerged Gaetz’s associate is cooperating with prosecutors and will likely take a plea deal – which will put more legal pressure on the embattled Florida Republican.
‘All of these stories we keep hearing are trouble for Matt Gaetz,’ said Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Bhrarara told Wolf Blitzer on CNN that Gaetz could potentially be facing questions about federal law infringements, sex trafficking and campaign finance violations.
CNN reported from court on Thursday that Joel Greenberg’s lawyers and prosecutors told the judge that a plea deal was in the works and could be finalized within weeks.
With Greenberg cooperating with the Justice Department, prosecutors may be able to determine if Gaetz broke any sex trafficking or prostitution laws.
Greenberg’s lawyer Fritz Scheller told reporters outside the hearing: ‘I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.’
Scheller was also asked if Greenberg introduced Gaetz to any underage girls for sexual relations.
‘I apologize, I just can’t answer that question,’ Greenberg’s attorney said.
Lawyers for Joel Greenberg (pictured) and prosecutors told a judge Thursday that Greenberg was cooperating with the Justice Department and they were working on a plea deal
CNN’s Paula Reid captured Joel Greenberg’s lawyer Fritz Scheller outside the courthouse Thursday
Greenberg is the former tax commissioner of Seminole County, Florida and has been charged with 33 counts ranging from sex trafficking of a minor to identity theft.
Gaetz, a third-term congressman from Florida, has not been charged with a crime, and he has vehemently denied the various accusations against him, among them that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl.
He called them a ‘lie.’
But the unsettling series of allegations – including that he may have broken federal sex trafficking laws and been involved in a scheme to recruit and pay women for sex – has put the 38-year-old conservative’s political future in doubt, just as he was being seen as an increasingly potent force in the Republican Party.
On Thursday it further emerged that Donald Trump, who counted Gaetz as among his most fervent supporters, had to be talked out of issuing a whole-hearted exoneration of his fellow Floridian.
‘His first impulse was that he wanted to defend Gaetz, you know: ‘He’s one of our people,” said Maggie Haberman, who covered Trump for The New York Times while he was in the White House.
‘They have been very close, and it’s been because Gaetz is a presence on television, he’s from Florida, and he’s willing to defend Trump vocally no matter what happens.’
Trump, pictured with Gaetz, had to be talked out of issuing a strongly-supportive statement
Some former White House officials reportedly described Gaetz as ‘meanest person in politics’
Trump on Wednesday issued not a full endorsement, but rather a carefully-worded statement saying that Gaetz never sought a pardon from him, personally. The New York Times reported that Gaetz asked the White House for a pre-emptive pardon.
‘Several of his advisors had told him that’s a very bad idea, that the nature of what Gaetz is being investigated for is so serious that this is not something that former President Trump should be out there on a limb’ for, Haberman told CNN.
She said that Trump had been ‘staying away from this, and I think it will continue.’
Some within the former president’s orbit even celebrated the controversy, with one former White House staffer telling Insider last month: ‘He’s the meanest person in politics.’
On Wednesday, CBS News reported that federal agents were investigating a trip the Florida congressman took to the Bahamas with a marijuana entrepreneur in late 2018 or early 2019.
Gaetz reportedly traveled with Dr. Jason Pirozzolo, a hand surgeon and co-founder of The American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association.
Pirozzolo paid for the travel and accommodation and also for female escorts, according to the report.
Investigators are probing whether the escorts were trafficked across state or international lines for the purpose of having sexual relations with the congressman.
‘Traveling across state lines is what creates a federal hook for a prosecution,’ Arlo Devlin-Brown, a former prosecutor and partner at Covington & Burling, told CBS.
‘It doesn’t matter that [Gaetz] personally paid them as long as he knows someone is doing that,’ he added.
Investigators are also looking into whether Gaetz was trading political access for the sexual rendezvous.
The top Republican in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, last week acknowledged the allegations were ‘serious’ and could lead to severe repercussions, but said he wanted to see more of the facts.
Joel Greenberg was captured leaving the federal courthouse in Orlando in June 2020 after making his first court appearance
‘If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him,’ McCarthy told Fox News.
Gaetz has pushed back forcefully against the allegations and sought to divert attention from the DOJ investigation by insisting he and his family have been victims of an extortion scheme.
He says two men, including former Air Force officer Robert Kent, approached Gaetz’s father seeking $25 million to fund their bid to locate and free American Robert Levinson, who disappeared 14 years ago in Iran.
Kent acknowledged texting the congressman’s father Don Gaetz, a former Florida Senate president, telling him he knew of an ‘indictment’ soon to be filed against his son, and that ‘I have a plan that can make his future legal and political problems go away.’
Speaking to CNN, Kent said mentioning Gaetz’s legal trouble was merely a ‘teaser,’ and he explained to the father ‘that this was not an extortion attempt,’ but a legitimate offer to help rescue Levinson while potentially showing Representative Gaetz in a positive light.
Levinson’s family said in 2020 that US officials had told them that the ex-FBI agent had died while in Iranian custody.
Brash and combative, Gaetz has taken controversial steps in Congress, wearing a gas mask on the House floor last year during a vote on an early coronavirus response package.
In 2019 he delayed impeachment proceedings against Trump when he led dozens of Republican lawmakers who burst into closed-door witness depositions and refused to leave for several hours.
And in January Gaetz traveled to Wyoming to help stir up opposition to senior congresswoman Liz Cheney, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump.
He had volunteered to leave Congress and defend the ex-president during Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial, over the January 6 MAGA riot.
Salacious details of Gaetz’s behavior have emerged.
According to CNN, Gaetz bragged about his sexual escapades to fellow lawmakers, showing them nude photographs of women he claimed to have slept with.
Gaetz has dug in, penning a column in Monday’s Washington Examiner.
‘The swamp is out to drown me with false charges, but I’m not giving up,’ he wrote.
And earlier this week another ex-staffer came held a press conference in Florida, defending the congressman after speaking with the FBI.
But the DOJ investigation – which was launched while Trump was still in office and not by Gaetz’s political opponents – could halt the ambitious Republican’s rise.
It centers on Gaetz and Greenberg, who was indicted last year on a federal child sex trafficking charge.
According to the Times, people close to the investigation said they believe Greenberg met women through websites and introduced them to Gaetz, who had sex with them.
The DOJ is also investigating whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old.
Most Republicans meanwhile, except Kinzinger, have withheld comment on Gaetz’s scandal.
He is scheduled to speak Friday at the Trump National Doral Miami, during the ‘Save America Summit’ sponsored by a pro-Trump women’s group.