Update, April 2:
According to the latest report from the New York Times, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz allegedly recruited women online for sex, took drugs with them, and paid them using digital money-transfer apps.
Citing conversations with people familiar with the ongoing Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into the congressman, the Times reports that Gaetz and his associate, former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, allegedly recruited women for sex using websites including SeekingArrangement, which pairs sugar daddies with sugar babies. The Times also alludes to a third unnamed Florida Republican involved in the dalliances.
The Times reviewed Cash App and Apple Pay receipts that show payments from Gaetz and Greenberg to one of the women allegedly recruited for sex. The newspaper also reports that Gaetz and various women took ecstasy before having sex, citing people familiar with the encounter.
The DOJ is now looking into whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and gave her anything of "material value," according to the Times. That could potentially lead to a federal sex-trafficking charge because it is illegal to provide a minor with anything of value in exchange for sex. The Times reports that the underage girl with whom Gaetz was allegedly involved is the same girl involved in the sex-trafficking counts against Greenberg from last year.
Gaetz denied those claims, issuing a statement to the Times asserting that he has never paid for sex and never visited any websites to recruit women for sex. Gaetz added that he "cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life” — a reference to his fiancée, 26-year-old Ginger Luckey.
CNN reported yesterday that Gaetz allegedly showed nude photos of his various sexual partners to other lawmakers, even while on the floor of the House of Representatives.
On Tuesday, Gaetz said in an interview with Tucker Carlson that the sex-trafficking allegations were false and part of a larger extortion scheme by former DOJ official David McGee of Florida. Now Gaetz says the extortion plot was run by two men, Robert Kent and Stephen Alford, who he says approached his father, Don Gaetz, to secure funding for an effort to locate Robert Levinson, an American who was taken captive in Iran.
Levinson, a retired FBI agent from Coral Springs, disappeared while visiting Iran in 2007. He was in the country on an unauthorized, covert CIA mission and was captured after leaving his hotel on the Iranian island of Kish. Since Levinson's disappearance, his family and some Florida elected officials have lobbied for his return to the U.S. In 2020, the Trump Administration concluded that Levinson had died in captivity, but some believe he might still be alive.
According to the Times, Kent and Alford suggested to Don Gaetz that Levinson's safe return would benefit his son Matt if the congressman were to be charged with federal crimes as a result of the sex-trafficking investigation. Gaetz said he and his father believed the communication to be extortion and informed the FBI, which he claims was looking into the matter. Records obtained by the Times appear to corroborate the claim that Don Gaetz was cooperating with the FBI.
McGee, a lawyer for the Levinson family, has denied Gaetz’s extortion claims.
Gaetz has not been charged with any criminal activity and continues to deny any wrongdoing.
Original story below:
Florida congressman and conservative firebrand Matt Gaetz is under intense scrutiny after reports surfaced yesterday that he is the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into alleged sexual misconduct involving a minor.
The New York Times has reported that the DOJ is looking into an allegation that Gaetz, who is 38, was having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl about two years ago and paid for her to to travel with him, potentially in violation of federal laws against sex trafficking.
The probe is reportedly part of a larger investigation into Gaetz's political ally Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector for Seminole County who was indicted last summer on multiple charges, including sex trafficking of a minor.
In an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson last night, Gaetz vehemently denied the allegations of sex trafficking and accused the newspaper of smearing his name.
"It is a horrible allegation, and it is a lie. The New York Times is running a story that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman, and that is verifiably false. People can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case," Gaetz told Carlson.
Gaetz claims the allegations and the Times story that followed are the result of an extortion scheme by a former DOJ official and current attorney in Florida named David McGee. Gaetz said that on March 16, his father, Don Gaetz, received a message to arrange a meeting, where he alleges McGee demanded $25 million to make sex-trafficking allegations against the congressman go away.
Gaetz went on to say that he heard McGee and his "co-conspirators," whom he did not name, had connections to President Joe Biden's White House, adding that he did not know if that was true. He also said the schemers claimed they had photos of Gaetz with child prostitutes, which he denied, saying "no such thing happened."
According to Gaetz, the FBI has been investigating the alleged extortion scheme by McGee and his father has been cooperating by wearing a wire and recording his conversations. The congressman said McGee was supposed to contact Don Gaetz today with instructions to give a down payment of $4.5 million on the bribe, which would have been caught by the FBI. Matt Gaetz said the Times ruined that investigation and insinuated that it was "not a coincidence" the story broke the day before the handoff.
During his interview with Carlson and on Twitter, Gaetz called on the DOJ to release the tapes from McGee's alleged extortion scheme, saying doing so would clear his name.
In an interview with the Daily Beast, McGee said Gaetz's claims that he was extorting the congressman were false and suggested they were "a blatant attempt" to distract from the bribery investigation.
So far, Gaetz has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Notably, none of the news coverage to date has specified how "sex trafficking" might figure into the investigation. The Times, for instance, cites sources who said investigators "are examining whether Mr. Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws," adding vaguely that "[a] variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value."
Under U.S. law, sex trafficking is strictly defined as "the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age."
Although the congressman denies any kind of relationship with a minor or ever having traveled with one, Gaetz told Axios in an interview that he was a "generous partner" in his single days and often paid for flights and hotel rooms for women he dated. And he told the Times his generosity is being misconstrued as something "untoward." Gaetz is engaged to Ginger Luckey, a 26-year-old financial analyst from California.
The Times story points out that Gaetz was the lone U.S. representative in 2017 to vote against a bipartisan bill to provide more funding to combat sex trafficking. At the time, Gaetz said his constituents did not want him to give more power to the federal government.
Earlier that same year, Greenberg, the former tax collector who was indicted on charges of trafficking a minor, tweeted a photo of himself with Gaetz and Roger Stone, a GOP political consultant in Donald Trump's orbit.
Gaetz has often been the subject of widespread national attention, though normally for his political stunts.
In 2019, he led a mob of Republican lawmakers past Capitol security officers into a secure room to interrupt an interview during Trump's first impeachment investigation. Gaetz has also been a staunch supporter of Trump's unfounded claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
Last year, Gaetz made headlines when he announced during a debate about racism and police reform that he had a teenage son named Nestor. Gaetz clarified that he is not Nestor's biological father and has not adopted the teen, but said Nestor became part of his family while he was dating Nestor's sister.