WASHINGTON — The latest report from the New York Times regarding a Justice Department investigation of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz says the probe is focused on Gaetz's and a former Florida official's potential involvement with multiple women who were recruited for sex and got cash payments.
The Times says investigators believe indicted former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg met the women on websites that "connect people who go on dates in exchange for gifts, fine dining, travel and allowances," citing three people familiar with the matter. Greenberg then would introduce women to Gaetz, and he would have sex with them, the Times reported.
The Times says it received receipts from different cash payment apps that appear to show payments from both Greenberg and Gaetz to a woman and another payment from Greenberg to a second woman. The women reportedly told friends the payments were for sex, the Times said, citing people familiar with the conversations.
The newspaper says it's not illegal to provide adults with free hotel stays, meals and other gifts. However, if prosecutors can prove the money was used to pay for sex, the Times says Gaetz could be accused of "trafficking the women under 'force, fraud or coercion.'"
Earlier this week, the Times was the first to report the Justice Department was investigating whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him.
Gaetz, a Republican who represents parts of the Florida Panhandle in Congress, confirmed the existence of the investigation but denied the allegations.
The Times reports, citing three people briefed on the matter, the Florida Republican might have broken federal sex trafficking laws that prohibit a person from inducing someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value.
Two people told the Times it was not clear how Gaetz met the girl, who was believed to be 17 when the supposed encounters happened about two years ago.
There have been no charges brought against Gaetz. He told the Times his lawyers were told he was the subject, not the target, of an investigation.
"The investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William P. Barr, the two people said. Given Mr. Gaetz’s national profile, senior Justice Department officials in Washington — including some appointed by Mr. Trump — were notified of the investigation, the people said," the Times reports.
10 Tampa Bay has reached out to Gaetz's office but has not yet heard back.
In an interview with Axios, however, Gaetz confirmed he has learned he is under federal investigation and fears criminal charges could eventually be filed against him. He denies the accusations.
"The allegations against me are as searing as they are false," Gaetz told Axios in a brief phone interview. "I believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know when I was a single guy."
Gaetz also tweeted Tuesday evening, alleging he and his family "have been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name."
The allegations against him, he says, are not true, adding, "the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation."
Earlier on Tuesday, Axios had reported that Gaetz was privately telling people close to him that he may not seek re-election and might even leave Congress early for a job at conservative cable network Newsmax.
The Times says whether Gaetz had any involvement is part of a broader investigation into a political ally of his, Greenberg, who resigned following charges last summer of sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, one of whom reportedly was an underage girl, according to the paper.
Greenberg pleaded not guilty and is slated to go on trial in June, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
Citing multiple sources, CNN reports Gaetz had a reputation in Congress for relationships with women and "bragging about his sexual escapades to his colleagues." The cable network says Gaetz allegedly showed other lawmakers videos of photos of naked women he had slept with – sometimes pulling up the images while on the floor of the House.
Gaetz, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, earlier this year said he'd resign from the House of Representatives if offered to represent him during his second impeachment trial.
"I only regret that I have but one political career to give to my president," Gaetz said on Fox News.
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