A Justice Department investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is focused on alleged cash payments made in exchange for sex, including to a 17-year-old girl, according to The New York Times.
Citing unnamed sources familiar with the investigation, text messages and receipts, the Times reported that the Florida Republican is suspected of having sex with women recruited online by Joel Greenberg – a former Seminole County tax collector who has been indicted on federal charges including sex trafficking – for encounters at hotels and other locations that on at least one occasion involved the use of the illegal drug ecstasy.
According to the Times’ sources, Gaetz also asked the women to recruit others for sex with him and his friends. At least one of the women agreed to have sex with a third man connected to Florida Republican politics, the Times reported.
Gaetz, 38, has denied any wrongdoing and has insisted the allegations were related to an extortion plot against him. His office did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment but told the Times in a statement that “Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex” and the congressman “refutes all the disgusting allegations completely.”
“Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life,” the statement said.
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The Times said it reviewed receipts from mobile payment applications Cash App and Apple Pay that showed payments from Gaetz and Greenberg to one of the women. The women told their friends they had received payments for sex with the two men, which were also sometimes paid with cash withdrawn from hotel ATMs, the paper reported.
The Justice Department is reportedly exploring whether an underage girl was among those Greenberg and Gaetz paid for sex. The Times reported the inquiry is looking into whether Gaetz had sex with the girl, 17, and if she received any cash or gifts from him.
Gaetz and Greenberg were political allies and Gaetz, now in his third term, offered to back Greenberg if he ran for higher office. But Greenberg resigned as tax collector after he was arrested last year by federal agents in a 14-count indictment alleging he stalked a political rival, used his position to create fake IDs and sex trafficked a minor.
Last week, he was indicted on additional charges for allegedly filing fraudulent claims to obtain COVID-19 relief loans and bribing a Small Business Administration official as part of the scheme. The indictment alleges he committed those offenses after his arrest on the other charges. Greenberg, who is scheduled to go on trial in June, is now indicted on more than 30 counts and, if convicted, could face decades in prison.
According to multiple media reports, the investigation into Greenberg led investigators to open a separate investigation into Gaetz in the summer of 2020. The child sex trafficking charge centers on the same 17-year-old girl involved in the Gaetz investigation, according to the Times.
The encounters under investigation occurred in 2019 and 2020 and often took place at various Florida hotels. The Times said messages and interviews showed Gaetz and Greenberg told the women where and when to meet and how much they were willing to pay.
According to the Times, Greenberg used the website Seeking Arrangement to find the women he and Gaetz allegedly paid for sex. The website, which claims to have more than 10 million active members, bills itself as a place where “Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies or Mommas both get what they want, when they want it.” It defines a “Sugar Daddy” as a successful person who “enjoy attractive company by their side” and for whom money “isn’t an issue.” A “Sugar Baby” is defined as an “attractive” person “looking for the finer things in life” who appreciates “exotic trips and gifts.”
“Sugar Babies get to experience a luxurious lifestyle, and meet wealthy people on a regular basis,” the site promises.
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In the statement to the Times, Gaetz’s office said the congressman “has never ever been on any such websites whatsoever.”
Gaetz told the Times his lawyers had spoken with the Justice Department and that he was the subject of the investigation, not the target.
“I only know that it has to do with women,” Gaetz told the Times of the investigation. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
Citing multiple unnamed sources, CNN reported Thursday night that Gaetz has often bragged of his sexual conquests to his colleagues on Capitol Hill, including sharing nude photos and videos of the women he claimed to have been with.
And ABC News, also citing unnamed sources, reported Friday that as a member of the Flordia Legislature, before he was elected to the U.S. House, Gaetz and other young lawmakers had created a scoring system for their sexual conquests that awarded different points for interns, their female colleagues and women they had heard were virgins. The alleged “game” was previously reported by the Miami Herald and South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Contributing: Jim Little, Pensacola News Journal
What we know:Rep. Matt Gaetz is under federal investigation, accused of having sex with a minor