scorecardA timeline of accusations against Matt Gaetz, from Harry Potter-themed sex games in Florida to a DOJ sex trafficking investigation
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A timeline of accusations against Matt Gaetz, from Harry Potter-themed sex games in Florida to a DOJ sex trafficking investigation

Kayla Epstein   

A timeline of accusations against Matt Gaetz, from Harry Potter-themed sex games in Florida to a DOJ sex trafficking investigation
PoliticsPolitics7 min read
  • Matt Gaetz may be in bigger legal peril after an associate of his agreed to cooperate with the feds.
  • The DOJ is investigating Gaetz for possible sex trafficking crimes. He denies the claims.
  • Insider put together a timeline that shows how Gaetz got here, starting from his high school days.

There's more bad news for Rep. Matt Gaetz.

The Justice Department is investigating whether the Florida Republican violated federal sex trafficking laws with a 17-year-old girl in 2019 - and the associate who could implicate him just pleaded guilty after making a deal with the feds.

On Monday Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector of Seminole County, Florida, and occasional wingman for Gaetz, appeared before a judge and pleaded guilty to sex-trafficking of a child, wire fraud, identity theft, stalking, and conspiracy. Insider on Friday first reported the details of the plea deal Greenberg planned to cut.

In exchange for a more lenient sentence, Greenberg must "cooperate fully" with the government "in the investigation and prosecution of other persons."

The inquiry into Gaetz stemmed from an earlier investigation into Greenberg. Gaetz has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, but the situation continues to grow more serious for him.

Insider has put together a timeline of the allegations against Gaetz, accusations that include career marked with toxic behavior and inappropriate treatment of women, and the series of events that have stemmed from the DOJ sex trafficking investigation.

2010-2016: Gaetz allegedly concocted sex competitions while in the Florida statehouse, which included a 'Harry Potter' challenge and 'extra points' for sleeping in sorority houses

Following news of the DOJ investigation, Insider reported that during his tenure in the Florida legislature, Gaetz and his colleagues would invent various sex competitions that won them points for certain conquests.

One Republican woman told Insider that sleeping with a particular, unnamed conservative woman meant a lawmaker "won the whole game regardless of points." That woman was known as a "snitch," the difficult-to-capture object from the Harry Potter game of Quidditch. The Republican woman also said she "heard specific references of Gaetz being involved and scoring points."

A fellow Republican lawmaker, Chris Latvala, also accused Gaetz in a 2020 tweet of creating "a game where members of the FL House got 'points' for sleeping with aides, interns, lobbyists, and married legislators."

2014: Gaetz, then in the Florida statehouse, launches a campaign to enact "scorched earth" policies against sexual predators.

While allegedly participating in those sex challenges, he also leaned heavily into legislation that would punish sex offenders.

As chairman of the Florida House of Representatives' Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Gaetz pushed for legislation that increased the mandatory prison time for convicted sexual offenders to 50 years. The legislation also broadened the definition of "sexual activity" that would qualify as a felony for anyone 24 or older who engages in sexual activity with a 16-year-old or a 17-year-old, according to one analysis.

Gaetz said at the time that "we're throwing the kitchen sink at violent sexual predators."

"I think there's a debate going on in the country right now about whether these individuals can be cured, and I don't really know if they ever can," he said at the time.

2015: Matt Gaetz posed on a playground for a 2015 campaign ad and said he'd 'always fight to protect our kids'

Shortly after trying to pass legislation that increased penalties for sexual offenders, Gaetz made a run for Florida state Senate and made children's safety a key issue. He released an ad in 2015 that centered on the story of an 8-year-old girl killed by a man with a history of sexual offenses. "I'm Matt Gaetz, and I'll always fight to protect our kids," he said.

2017-2021: Gaetz heads to Congress, where staffers say surprises - from doing the boss' TV makeup to cleaning up after messy controversies - are part of the job

Gaetz' Washington office could be a chaotic place to work, staffers told Insider. They said that doing their boss' hair and makeup for his nonstop television hits occasionally factored into their jobs. Gaetz's endless courtship of controversy, staffers said, wound up making their lives "hell."

In one instance, Gaetz proposed abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency. While the fallout made his team miserable, Gaetz "loved every second of it because it was very chaotic and it helped draw a lot of media attention to him," a former staffer told Insider.

Gaetz also grew "irate" when not enough people showed up to his events, according to one staffer, and had to be warned to not appear so friendly with female students at political functions.

March 30, 2021: The DOJ is reportedly investigating whether Rep. Matt Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and violated sex trafficking laws

The news landed like a bombshell in the New York Times: The Justice Department was investigating whether Gaetz violated sex trafficking laws and had sex with a 17-year-old girl. Authorities are also investigating whether he paid her to travel with him, the Times reported.

The inquiry, launched during the Trump administration, stemmed from a broader investigation into Greenberg, who was indicted last year on several charges, including sex trafficking of a minor. The girl at the center of the Gaetz investigation is the same person involved in one of the sex trafficking counts against Greenberg.

Gaetz denied having sex with a minor and claimed that the investigation was part of a multimillion-dollar extortion effort.

March 30, 2021: Republicans are unloading on Rep. Matt Gaetz in gossipy texts and snide asides amid reports of a DOJ sex investigation: 'He's the meanest person in politics'

Gaetz made a reputation for himself as one of Trump's most zealous defenders, but when the news of the DOJ investigation broke, the former president's orbit didn't return the favor. Republicans contacted by Insider were gossiping about the news in private group chats.

They "feel a little vindicated," one former White House staffer told Insider. "He's the meanest person in politics."

"Good riddance," another former Trump White House aide told Insider.

April 1, 2021: Matt Gaetz reportedly showed fellow lawmakers nude photos of women he was dating while on the House floor

The DOJ investigation unleashed a Pandora's box of claims about Gaetz's treatment of women. The next day, CNN reported that Gaetz had shown off private photos of women he said he was dating to his fellow lawmakers while they were gathered in the House of Representatives.

April 2, 2021: We asked 30 Republicans who know and have worked with Rep. Matt Gaetz if they've reached out to him as his sordid sex stories snowball. Their collective silence was deafening.

Insider reached out to 30 Republican lawmakers and politicos in Florida who knew or had worked with Gaetz to see if any would defend him. There was no cavalry.

"He is a slasher, and that does not endear you to people, even people on your side," said Mac Stipanovich, a longtime Florida Republican strategist who's now an independent and knows Gaetz. Even some of Gaetz's allies "probably don't include his good health in their prayers every night," Stipanovich said.

After news of the Justice Department investigation broke, two top staffers, communications director Luke Ball and legislative director Devin Murphy, quit the congressman's office.

April 9, 2021: Matt Gaetz employs Trump-style fundraising pitches - including automatic recurring contributions that could dupe donors

Amid the fallout from the DOJ probe, Gaetz borrowed a tactic from his political idol, Trump, for inspiration on how to survive: vehemently deny everything, hit back hard -and use the sudden spotlight to raise tons of money.

Gaetz's re-election committee blasted out fundraising emails to supporters claiming "the left" is "coming for me" and asking for donations. The donations were set to automatically recur unless supporters opted out, a similar and highly controversial tactic used by the Trump 2020 campaign that duped some supporters into donating tens of thousands of dollars.

April 14, 2021: Gaetz's high school classmates dish to Insider that they could have seen the congressman's sex scandals coming

Insider reached out to 21 people who knew Gaetz during a formative era: high school. They recounted hard-elbowed and lewd behavior that some said foreshadowed the allegations against him this year. In private groups and text chains, they've shared memes and gossip about their notorious classmate. One meme compared him to one of the title characters from the cartoon "Beavis and Butthead."

One former classmate, Erin Scot, recalled attending a wedding with Gaetz, where the now-congressman showed him a private, "sexual" photo of a woman on all fours. She said the later allegations put forth in the DOJ investigation didn't surprise her.

April 21, 2021: Joel Greenberg's lawyer warns that Gaetz shouldn't feel 'very comfortable'

Greenberg, who has been photographed several times alongside Gaetz over the years, was reportedly cooperating with the Justice Department, leading some to believe that he could implicate Gaetz in exchange for a deal.

His lawyer, Fritz Scheller, is an eccentric attorney prone to quoting the Dalai Lama and who defended Noor Salman, the widow of the Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen. He has made ominous statements to the press about Gaetz's legal exposure from the investigation and Greenberg's potential cooperation, saying the congressman shouldn't feel "very comfortable."

April 23, 2021: The DOJ is reportedly investigating if Matt Gaetz was illegally influenced to push pro-cannabis legislation and violated sex trafficking laws

As if Gaetz wasn't in enough trouble, news broke in late April that he was the subject of another DOJ inquiry. This time, federal investigators are looking into whether a 2018 trip to the Bahamas was part of an illegal attempt to influence his stance on cannabis legislation. A hand surgeon and cannabis entrepreneur reportedly paid for travel expenses and escorts, CBS News reported, citing sources close to the investigation. Authorities are scrutinizing whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, according to CBS.

May 17, 2021: Matt Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg pleads guilty to 6 felony counts and agrees to cooperate with prosecutors

As expected, Greenberg cut a deal with prosecutors in exchange for a more lenient sentence. On May 17, he pleaded guilty to six counts, a significant decrease from the initial 33 charges he faced.

In exchange for the reduced charges, Greenberg had to agree to cooperate with the US government in their investigation into his case or related inquiries. Those following the case believe that deal could spell trouble for Gaetz if Greenberg has information for prosecutors that could implicate him on sex trafficking charges.