In two late-night Venmo transactions in May 2018, Rep. Matt Gaetz sent his friend, the accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, $900. The next morning, over the course of eight minutes, Greenberg used the same app to send three young women varying sums of money. In total, the transactions amounted to $900.
The memo field for the first of Gaetz’s transactions to Greenberg was titled “Test.” In the second, the Florida GOP congressman wrote “hit up ___.” But instead of a blank, Gaetz wrote a nickname for one of the recipients. (The Daily Beast is not sharing that nickname because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.) When Greenberg then made his Venmo payments to these three young women, he described the money as being for “Tuition,” “School,” and “School.”
The Daily Beast examined these records as a scandal, rooted in a criminal case against Greenberg, engulfs Gaetz.
Greenberg—the former Seminole County tax collector—has now 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.” And The New York Times says a Justice Department investigation is looking into Gaetz’s involvement in the cash-for-sex ring.
Gaetz and Greenberg are both connected through Venmo to this then-18-year-old woman—who now works in the porn industry, according to a friend of the girl. And on Thursday, Greenberg’s attorney and prosecutors indicated during a court hearing that they expect Greenberg to strike a plea deal, likely meaning he plans to cooperate with investigators.
That could be potentially disastrous for Gaetz, as investigators look into the connections between these two men. And one particularly damning connection is their financial transactions.
This week, during the reporting of this story, Gaetz’s once-public list of Venmo transactions disappeared. Greenberg’s Venmo account is not currently publicly accessible. But The Daily Beast was able to obtain partial records of Greenberg’s past online transactions through a source.
Greenberg and Gaetz are also connected on Venmo to at least one other woman that Greenberg paid with taxpayer funds using a government-issued credit card. Seminole County auditors flagged hundreds of those payments as “questioned or unaccounted for,” and in total found more than $300,000 in suspicious or unjustified expenses. The Daily Beast was able to obtain that credit card data through a public records request.
“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. The Daily Beast has compared Greenberg’s credit card statements and Venmo transactions to Gaetz’s expenses and travel records—compiled through campaign finance reports, Instagram posts, and Venmo—and found that, in some key places, the two timelines and circles of contact overlap.
Gaetz and Greenberg share Venmo connections with at least two women who received payments from Greenberg, and both have professional relationships with each other.
In 2018, Greenberg also paid another woman, a mutual friend of Gaetz's, several thousand dollars using his taxpayer-backed 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.”
Last week, The New York Times reported that the Justice Department was investigating Gaetz for allegedly paying for a 17-year-old girl to travel with him across state lines and inducing her to have sex—an act that would violate federal child sex trafficking laws. The investigation reportedly dates back to last summer, when it sprung from the ongoing Greenberg probe. According to the Times, the two men reportedly had sex with and trafficked the same 17-year-old girl.
The three-term Republican has acknowledged the existence of the investigation but denies the allegations. He told The Daily Beast in a late-night March 31 text message that, “The last time I had a sexual relationship with a seventeen year old, I was seventeen.” And in an op-ed in the conservative-leaning Washington Examiner last weekend, Gaetz claimed that he “never, ever paid women for sex.”
Gaetz has not been charged with a crime, and Gaetz’s congressional office declined to comment directly for this story.
Instead, a representative from an outside public relations firm, the Logan Circle Group, responded with this statement from Gaetz: "The rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements of others will be addressed in due course by my legal team."
Logan Circle's Erin Elmore—a pro-Trump pundit and former contestant on The Apprentice—added that a lawyer would be "closely monitoring your coverage."
Also cc'd on the email was another Logan Circle Group employee: Harlan Hill, who was banned from Fox News after calling now-Vice President Kamala Harris "an insufferable lying bitch."
Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, declined comment. But during a press conference after a hearing for the case, Scheller offered that the Florida congressman would probably not welcome the news that Greenberg was taking a plea deal.
“I'm sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said.
—Updated with comment from Gaetz.