20:30 GMT17 May 2021
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    It was reported Thursday that Joel Greenberg, an acquaintance of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), may serve as a witness in the US Department of Justice's probe into federal sex trafficking claims made against the congressman. Gaetz has denied the allegations and claimed the DoJ's investigation is part of an "organized criminal extortion" plot.

    Amid reports of Greenberg possibly reaching a plea deal with federal prosecutors, the US House Committee on Ethics announced on Friday that it had launched an investigation into a litany of misconduct allegations leveled against Gaetz in recent weeks. 

    "The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Matt Gaetz may have engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct," the news release detailed. 

    The issuance, approved by Chairman Rep. Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL), and Ranking Member Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-ID), highlighted that the public disclosure of the committee's review "does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred." 

    No further details were provided. 

    The congressional committee's announcement comes just hours before Gaetz is scheduled to take the stage as the keynote speaker for the Women for America First's "Save America Summit." 

    Friday night's "BBQ, Boots & Bluegrass" dinner, is being held in Florida, at Trump National Doral Miami. 

    Gaetz has denied all allegations, including those related to the underage sex trafficking claims raised in the ongoing DoJ probe. He tweeted late last month that he and his father, former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, have been cooperating with federal authorities to thwart an organized criminal extortion plot "involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million." 

    Former US President Donald Trump has also pushed back against reports that the 38-year-old congressman asked for a preemptive pardon. 

    "Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon," Trump wrote in an April 7 statement. "It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him." 

    Furthermore, Greenberg has not officially accepted a plea deal, despite his lawyer's ominous statement following a federal court hearing in Orlando, Florida, on Thursday. 

    "I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today," attorney Fritz Scheller said. 

    Greenberg, a former tax collector, has been hit with 33 federal charges. 

    During Greenberg's Friday arraignment, US Magistrate Judge Leslie Hoffman entered a not guilty plea in relation to 22 of the charges leveled against the former tax collector. The charges relate to allegations of embezzlement and fraudulently obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal loans for defunct companies. 

    Neither Greenberg nor his attorney appeared in court that day. 

    The remaining 11 charges relate to allegations of sex trafficking and identity theft. Gaetz's once-public Venmo payments to Greenberg have raised questions about the congressman's possible involvement in the alleged crime. 

    The deadline for Greenberg's plea agreement has been set for May 15. 

    Related:

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    'Not a Monk, Certainly Not a Criminal': Gaetz Won't Resign, Slams 'Biden DoJ' for 'False' Sex Claims
    Matt Gaetz Gets 'Women For America First' Invite at Trump Hotel as Sex-Trafficking Allegations Swirl
    Tags:
    Matt Gaetz, allegations, misconduct, US House Ethics Committee
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