Two women recently spoke to CNN to discuss the time they attended house parties in the gated community in suburban Orlando, and they say that the first thing some of the women were asked to do when they arrived was put their cellphones away. The men inside, who included Rep. Matt Gaetz and local Republican officials, didn’t want the night’s festivities to be documented.
The partygoers mingled and traded drugs like cocaine and ecstasy, some of whom were suited up for a political function they’d just left, and some of them even had sex.
One of the women said Gaetz liked to talk politics. He acted as a “frat type of party boy,” she said, taking pills she thought were recreational drugs occasionally.
The two women who attended some of the parties over the past few years outlined the parties to CNN in detail. Both agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.
The Justice Department is likely to be interested in Gaetz’s actions and those of the other high-powered men at the events, as well as a trail of digital payments that followed, which involves charges of human trafficking and prostitution.
According to people familiar with the case, federal investigators are looking into whether Gaetz had a relationship with a woman that started when she was 17 years old. Investigators have also looked into claims from witnesses and other facts that Gaetz may have dealt with the young women with cash and drugs.
Gaetz and his associate Joel Greenberg, a former county tax commissioner arrested last year on several federal charges, allegedly used digital payment apps to transfer hundreds of dollars to at least one woman who attended the events, according to receipts checked by CNN.
The receipts CNN examined were for payments made between 2018 and 2019, and at least one of them had a mark indicating that it was to reimburse for travel.
After some of the parties, one of the women said she earned money from Greenberg. She admitted that some of the money was for supplying sex. She did mention, however, that she never got money from Gaetz directly.
According to the other woman, some of the parties were more low-key affairs. Some took place in hotel suites after boozy political gatherings.
“Once you’ve had a few bottles of champagne in you, no one wants to stop dancing, stop drinking,” she said.
Authorities have met with some of the women associated with the congressman and his close associate, Greenberg, the former tax commissioner in Seminole County, Florida, currently facing 33 federal charges, including sex trafficking of a child.
One of the women who talked to CNN said she did so because the image of Gaetz as a possible sex trafficker that has emerged in recent days, does not match what she saw. Both women said that they never saw anyone under the age of 18 at the events. According to them, neither has met with federal investigators.
Gaetz has denied ever paying for sex and has attempted to portray the charges against him as the product of political bias in the justice system and the media over the last two weeks. Investigators, he claims, have twisted his generosity toward women into something criminal.
Last month, Gaetz said in an interview with Fox News, “Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime.”
According to The New York Times, Gaetz made digital payments to women, and The Daily Beast reported on Venmo transactions between Gaetz and Greenberg, as well as Greenberg and young women.
A source familiar with the case confirms to CNN that Greenberg has been supplying investigators with details since last year, including about interactions he and Gaetz had with women who were given cash or gifts in exchange for sex.
Greenberg has met with investigators many times. His cooperation could place more legal pressure on Gaetz as investigators try to determine whether he violated any sex trafficking or prostitution laws himself.
Greenberg’s attorney and a federal prosecutor told a judge last week that Greenberg would likely sign a plea deal in the coming weeks, potentially allowing the Justice Department even more access to a witness with firsthand knowledge of any possible misconduct by Gaetz.
Greenberg’s attorney, Fritz Scheller, declined to say whether his client would be willing to cooperate as part of a possible plea bargain while speaking to reporters during the Thursday hearing last week. He also refused to say if Greenberg had already met with prosecutors to discuss what he knows about Gaetz.
He added, however, that his client is “uniquely situated.” Scheller said, “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.”
The investigations into Gaetz started in the final months of the Trump administration’s Justice Department, led by then-Attorney General William Barr, and was originally part of a larger inquiry into claims of human trafficking against Greenberg.
According to sources familiar with the inquiry, investigators are looking into Gaetz’s ties to many associates in Florida who may have benefited politically in exchange for supplying the congressman with favors such as escorts, travel, and campaign contributions.
One of the events in question is Gaetz’s trip to the Bahamas with friends. According to the sources, investigators are looking into whether Gaetz was given travel and women in return for political favors as part of a larger investigation.
Gaetz, a former member of the Florida House of Representatives and the son of an influential figure in Republican state politics, established a close circle of politically connected friends who stuck with him after moving to Washington in 2017.
Several allies have been pulled into the controversy in recent days. Chris Dorworth, a former state senator who Gaetz has characterized as a “legislative mentor” and “mate,” resigned from his role at a high-powered lobbying firm on Friday, one day after The New York Times revealed that he had discussed running a third-party candidate in a local election with Gaetz, potentially violating campaign finance laws.
Dorworth tweeted, referring to Brian Ballard, the founder of the Florida-based lobbying firm with strong links to the Donald Trump’s administration, “The current political environment is nasty, and I told Brian I don’t think it’s fair for the recent media storm to take away from their missions.”
It appears that Greenberg is the only one in Gaetz’s circle facing charges in connection with the scandal. Greenberg was first arrested in 2020 for allegedly stalking a political opponent. Since then, federal prosecutors have accused him of illegally accessing a motor vehicle database to gain and use the personal details of individuals, including those with whom he “was engaged in ‘sugar daddy’ relationships.”
According to a source close to Greenberg, the former tax commissioner routinely sent identically worded messages to several women, inviting them to parties via so-called sugar daddy dating websites, where men interact with women to exchange money or gifts.
Few specifics about the sex trafficking of a minor charge brought against Greenberg last year have been made public, but prosecutors said the minor was between the ages of 14 and 17 and accused Greenberg of illegally obtaining a photograph and driver’s license number for the person in an August indictment.
Greenberg and Gaetz were identified as good friends by those close to them, who said their bond was as much about Republican Party politics in Florida as it was about after-hours socializing.
According to people close to the men, Greenberg, a newcomer to the elected office when he won the county seat in 2016, benefited from his friendships with Gaetz and other legislators.
According to Greenberg’s source, when he was not in the public eye, he would brag to his buddies about partying with Gaetz and women.
Gaetz seemed to have found a friend in Greenberg, contributing $1,000 to one of his campaigns and endorsing him for higher office in an interview.
In 2017, Gaetz told a Florida radio station, “If Joel were to run from Seminole Co, I think he’d become the next congressman from the 7th district.”
The two are now being put to the test. Gaetz, for his part, has beefed up his legal staff, recruiting two New York attorneys late last week, including Marc Mukasey, a former federal prosecutor who formerly represented the Trump Organization.