April 20, 2024

When ABC News reported on Wednesday that the House Ethics Committee had acquired text messages between a young woman involved in the sex trafficking investigation and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a Gaetz spokesperson told ABC that the congressman “does not know anything about the woman you’re referencing.”

That seems extraordinarily unlikely.

The Daily Beast can now report that this woman told prosecutors in 2021 that she had sex with Gaetz at a drug-fueled party that she was paid to attend, according to the woman’s attorney.

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This attorney told The Daily Beast on Thursday that the woman, in fact, received payments in connection with multiple sex parties with people in Gaetz’s circle. Her lawyer said that, in response to a subpoena, she testified about her experiences to the U.S. Attorneys investigating Gaetz. And she turned over text messages, photos, and other evidence to the Justice Department as part of its child sex trafficking inquiry into the Florida congressman, the lawyer said.

The Daily Beast has obtained some of those messages and photos, which match the documents described by ABC News.

While the lawyer said he has not yet been contacted by House investigators, as ABC reported, the House Ethics Committee is now reviewing this evidence as part of its inquiry into whether Gaetz paid for sex with women and with an underage teen. In fact, the Ethics Committee met Thursday afternoon behind closed doors to discuss the Gaetz case, which also involves allegations of public corruption, solicitation of prostitution, habitual use of hard drugs, bribes or impermissible gifts, campaign finance violations, and exhibiting nude photos of sexual partners on the House floor.

The woman’s attorney also told The Daily Beast that, when it became apparent Gaetz was being investigated in 2021, she was contacted by another male party attendee—a Gaetz associate—who pressed her to see if she was speaking to anyone about the congressman or the parties. She felt this meeting was an effort to intimidate her into not describing any of the events related to Gaetz, the lawyer said.

The woman, whose name The Daily Beast is withholding, was older than 21 at the time of the encounters, the attorney said, noting that she emphasized to prosecutors that the sex was consensual.

“She told them that she and lots of girls were provided all kinds of controlled substances at these parties,” the lawyer said, confirming a number of news reports about the gatherings. The heavy use of drugs and alcohol was a hurdle for investigators, he said, since it muddled memories of the events.

“The availability of vast amounts of alcohol and controlled substances gave rise to the lack of control of the hormonal imperative,” this lawyer continued, “which inspired people to engage in intimate behavior that may or may not have been because they were financially remunerated.”

This woman appears in Venmo transactions previously reported on by The Daily Beast. Between March and July 2017, this woman received nearly $2,500 across multiple payments from Gaetz’s then-best friend, locally elected tax collector Joel Greenberg. The descriptions Greenberg entered for her payments included “travel,” “being cool,” “stuff,” and the misspelled first name of another Greenberg associate.

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The text messages now in the hands of congressional investigators show Gaetz propositioning the woman for a May 2017 private group flight to the Florida Keys, where they would be joined by three women and one other man.

“Hey—any interest in flying on a private plane to the keys May 19-21?” Gaetz wrote in one message, adding that she would be traveling with “2 guys, 4 girls. A very high-quality adventurous group.”

The woman initially agreed, to which Gaetz replied, “Fantastic.”

“As is true with all time you spend w me, it’ll be fun and chill,” Gaetz wrote. He then asked if she had a passport, and she replied that she did.

The woman ultimately declined to make the trip, her attorney confirmed. She doesn’t appear in Venmo transactions around that time, though two other women do, including one who received a $500 payment described as “Cuba.”

(A person with knowledge of the events told The Daily Beast that Gaetz privately boasted about taking a trip to Cuba around this time.)

The woman invited to the Florida Keys did receive other payments from Greenberg in the months before and after the trip, however. For one $500 charge to Greenberg in July 2017, she entered a police woman emoji—“👮”—in the memo line. (That same weekend, Gaetz and Greenberg each shared a selfie of themselves at dinner with Roger Stone in Miami.)

Although the woman appears to have ultimately declined the trip to the Florida Keys, ABC reported that she posed for a selfie with Gaetz on May 19, the planned departure day. That photo, which The Daily Beast has obtained, was taken at 10:53 p.m. in Winter Garden, Florida, according to metadata on the photo. It shows the attention-grabbing conservative in a T-shirt emblazoned with a quote from former Planned Parenthood vice president Mary Lasker: “If you think research is expensive, try disease.”

Obtained by The Daily Beast.

(The Daily Beast has edited this photo to protect the woman’s identity.)

The woman’s attorney told The Daily Beast that her decision to come forward was a difficult and emotionally taxing experience. And the lawyer pointed to the meeting with the Gaetz associate as evidence that those pressures weren’t all purely internal.

At one point, the lawyer said, this person close to Gaetz berated his client for information about what she may tell anyone investigating Gaetz, and she felt that the clear intent was to pressure her to keep her mouth shut.

This Gaetz associate asked to meet the woman for lunch in the spring of 2021, the lawyer said. The setup made the attorney so uneasy, however, that he dispatched a colleague to tag along and monitor the meeting in secret.

“This associate was there asking her over and over and over what she had said, demanding she tell them,” the lawyer claimed. The lawyer reported that the woman felt intimidated but did not concede.

Last year, prosecutors announced they were declining to file charges against Gaetz, while also refusing to publicly offer an explanation. That decision, almost exactly one year ago, gave rise to frustration and outrage among key witnesses in the case, including women who had come forward to provide intimate and detailed accounts of their interactions, according to interviews with lawyers and witnesses in the matter.

“The fact that nothing has come of it has kind of astonished her, who along with all the others had been the focal point of such an intense investigation,” the woman’s lawyer said. “For them to go through all that and then for the target of the investigation to just get a wink and a nod has created for some of them a loss of faith in the system.”

Not long after prosecutors tabled their investigation, the Ethics Committee reopened its own probe, which it initiated in 2021 but quickly put on ice in deference to the DOJ. Since then, the committee has reached out to several key witnesses, including the former 17-year-old at the center of the sex trafficking allegations, Greenberg, and an ex-girlfriend of Gaetz’s, according to news reports and sources familiar with the events.

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The Ethics probe appears to have rattled Gaetz. Last month, The Daily Beast reported that he privately told colleagues that the rebooted investigation was the reason he waged his scorched-earth campaign to oust then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The months of infighting destroyed key allegiances within the House GOP, eroding trust and sowing enmity between members, feeding a stream of embarrassing headlines. Republicans still have not recovered from the damage.

Gaetz’s close associate, Greenberg, struck a deal with prosecutors in May 2021, pleading guilty to child sex trafficking, fraud, and an array of other federal offenses. In his plea agreement, Greenberg admitted he had also connected the former 17-year-old to other unnamed “adult men” who had sex with her while she was still underage. After several proffers and deferments, Greenberg was eventually sentenced in December 2022, receiving 11 years in prison.

In a confession letter Greenberg penned in 2020 as part of his pursuit of a pardon from then-President Donald Trump, Greenberg wrote that Gaetz also paid to have sex with the 17-year-old, as The Daily Beast previously reported. In his letter, Greenberg noted the exact date that he accessed a DMV database to learn that the teen in question was underage.

“Immediately I called the congressman and warned him to stay clear of this person and informed him she was underage,” Greenberg wrote. “He was equally shocked and disturbed by this revelation.”

But that new information apparently didn’t scare Gaetz or Greenberg off from the teen. The Daily Beast previously reported about a Venmo payment from Gaetz to Greenberg about eight months later, where Gaetz asked his friend to “hit up” the teen. She had turned 18 just five months prior to that Venmo transaction, and Gaetz was 36 at the time—twice her age.

Asked for comment, a Gaetz spokesperson repeated the statement to ABC: “Rep. Gaetz does not know anything about the woman you’re referencing.”

When The Daily Beast provided the name of the woman in question, the spokesperson simply didn’t reply.

Reese Gorman and Jose Pagliery contributed to this report.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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