Federal prosecutors have asked a Florida court to reduce the level of charges against Joel Greenberg, the former Seminole County Tax Collector — and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) wingman — citing extensive cooperation with the DOJ investigations into the circumstances surrounding his offenses.
In Thursday’s filing, Assistant United States Attorney Amanda Daniels wrote:
“Here, defendant Joel Micah Greenberg, provided truthful and timely information to the United States which, in part, resulted in the charging of others and that has substantially assisted in the investigation and prosecution of other persons.”
The Motion for Downward Departure – part of the United States Sentencing Guidelines – allows the government to make a motion before the Court asking that a criminal defendant’s sentence be reduced.
This motion is made at the time of sentencing and is not binding on the Court. This is a government-sponsored motion and is filed because the defendant has given substantial assistance in the prosecution or investigation of another person.
Providing substantial assistance, or what is more commonly referred to as “cooperating with law enforcement,” is a departure that is encouraged in federal sentencing guidelines.
Though Greenberg pled guilty to six federal charges, the ten-level reduction only applies to the Count One of the Third Superseding Indictment – child sex trafficking, which alone carries a minimum sentence of 10 years.
Wowie. The government recommending a 10-Level reduction in the sentencing guidelines for Matt Gaetz wingman Joel Greenberg for the cooperation he provided. That’s a lot of cooperation, most of which we still don’t know about. https://t.co/hECzfkfRzp pic.twitter.com/Ui4r34g3jF
— Ron Filipkowski 🇺🇦 (@RonFilipkowski) November 11, 2022
The former Seminole County Tax Collector reportedly engaged in a bribery and kickback scam with Michael Shirley, who also worked on Greenberg’s reelection campaign, using an employee of the Tax Collector’s office, Joseph Ellicott as an accomplice.
“Greenberg provided assistance regarding $6,000 in bribes and kickbacks that were allegedly paid to him by Michael Shirley,2 using Joseph Ellicott as a conduit of the payment for the purpose of concealing the conspiracy and scheme,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniels.
“Greenberg’s cooperation was instrumental to confirming the existence of this conspiracy and scheme, and he provided an important document to this investigation that the United States otherwise would not have had without his cooperation.”
Ellicott pled guilty to the kickback conspiracy in October and was sentenced to 15 months in prison for his role in the scheme. Besides taking part in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the former tax office employee and longtime friend of Greenberg’s admitted to illegally distributing the prescription drug Adderall – selling over $5000 worth to one unnamed client.
Facing 20 years in prison, Ellicott cooperated with federal investigators in the Department of Justice’s criminal investigation into Congressman Gaetz for child sex trafficking.
The Daily Beast revealed that Ellicott knew intimate details about the teenage girl who was paid for sex by the group—and actually texted what essentially amounted to a confession that they were scrambling to try and cover up details about their sex with a 17-year-old from the feds.
“Joe Zwick, an attorney for Ellicott, told The Daily Beast that his client has been cooperating in the sex trafficking case against Gaetz. That case is being handled by Justice Department prosecutors in Washington, D.C., and is separate from the local ongoing investigation into Greenberg and the tax office, which gave rise to the charges in Ellicott’s case,” The Daily Beast reported.
Rep. Gaetz has not yet been charged with a crime to date.
In June 2021, Jeff Weiner at The Orlando Sentinel reported Shirley received more than half a million dollars from the county’s tax office through his company, Praetorian Integrated Services.
Lauren also noted that Mike Shirley, who helped run Greenberg's election campaign, got $678,000 from the tax office through his company Praetorian Integrated Services. Audit: "No evidence of work product." Additional comment from staff: "He was helpful in getting Joel elected."
— Jeff Weiner (@JeffWeinerOS) June 18, 2021
Shirley, who’s been indicted, has pleaded not guilty and is currently awaiting trial.
During the federal investigation, bank records revealed a $6020 cash deposit by Greenberg in September 2017 – just a few days after Shirley made a $6000 cash withdrawal. Suspected of being a bribe and kickback, investigators were given substantiating evidence by Greenberg himself that it was a suspected bribe and kickback.
In his proffer, Greenberg provided details about the payment, including the involvement of Ellicott and Shirley. Greenberg’s information was corroborated by text messages from Ellicott’s phone, bank records, and toll records of calls.
“The document that Greenberg provided was a receipt dated September 25, 2017, that claimed to reflect the sale of two desks, a credenza, a conference room table with four chairs, an end table, an office cubicle, an office chair, a bookcase, two whiteboards, and a television for $6,000. The United States contends that the document was fake and was intended by its creator, Shirley, to conceal the bribe and kickback he had paid Greenberg in September 2017,” the DOJ’s Motion for Downward Departure states.
Greenberg was arrested in June 2020 after it was revealed the ex-politician was involved in child sex trafficking, in addition to a slew of other charges.
In July 2021 – two months after pleading guilty and right before sentencing – Greenberg filed a motion asking the judge for permission to submit additional information to the court under seal related to his cooperation in other criminal investigations, according to News 6.
“Pursuant to his plea agreement with the Government and to mitigate the significant penalties he faces, Mr. Greenberg has been cooperating with federal prosecutors in active investigations currently being conducted by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida and the Department of Justice in Washington D.C. as well as in other jurisdictions,” wrote Greenberg’s attorney, Fritz Scheller.
As he was facing a mandatory minimum of at least 12 years in prison with combined charges.
While the base-level offense of Count One wasn’t revealed in the filing, there are currently 43 levels. More serious types of crime have higher base offense levels (for example, a trespass has a base offense level of 4, while kidnapping has a base offense level of 32), according to the USSC
Several factors impact sentencing guidelines, taking whether or not a defendant cooperated, or has a criminal history. Resulting in addition or subtraction of the final level. That Greenberg was facing a decade in prison for the child sex trafficking charge alone – coupled with the ASUA’s request for a ten-level reduction – is a big deal.
The Justice Department also maintains that Greenberg conspired with an employee at the Small Business Administration to defraud the government by submitting false claims covered under the CARES Act, by submitting false claims for Economic Injury Disaster Loans intended for small businesses negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Greenberg and the SBA employee conspired to submit loan applications for two of Greenberg’s businesses falsely claiming the businesses were operating prior to February 2020, when in fact the State previously had administratively dissolved both businesses and Greenberg only reinstated them to apply for the loans. Greenberg and the SBA employee also conspired to apply for a third loan in Greenberg’s name. The loan applications provided false information about the revenues and numbers of employees for the businesses. As a result of the conspiracy, Greenberg received over $430,000, and he paid $16,000 of that to the individual who recruited him into the scheme and $3,000 of it as a bribe to the SBA employee,” the DOJ’s filing sates.
This was done after the former Matt Gaetz pal was arrested and freed on a conditional release.
In an act of desperation, Greenberg reportedly put pressure on Gaetz to secure the disgraced former government employee a pardon from still-President Donald Trump before he left office. According to WhatsApp messages obtained by POLITICO, Greenberg reached out to mutual friends two months after his arrest panicking because investigators were combing through his Venmo history.
Suffice it to say, the realization that he’s on his own has more than likely dawned on the ultimate Florida Man and habitual criminal.
Not only did he not receive the pardon he so desperately wanted – and needed – but he’s looking down the barrel of years in federal prison. While he catches a break on the most heinous of his charges, he will still be required to serve the minimums mandated by his indictments.
Greenberg’s also been ordered to pay restitution to his victims. It remains to be seen whether Congressman Gaetz can be counted among them.
Read the motion here.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick