AP

Rep. Gaetz says no charges for him in sex trafficking case

Feb 14, 2023, 9:31 PM | Updated: Feb 16, 2023, 4:17 am

FILE - Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is questioned by reporters, Jan. 6, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washin...

FILE - Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is questioned by reporters, Jan. 6, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Gaetz says Justice Department has informed him he won’t face charges related to sex trafficking investigation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican known for his strong support of former President Donald Trump and membership in the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus in the House, said Wednesday that the Justice Department has ended a sex trafficking case with no charges against him.

The lawmaker who represents much of the Florida Panhandle issued a statement through his congressional office that the long-running investigation was over. Gaetz had insisted throughout he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

“The Department of Justice has confirmed to Congressman Gaetz’s attorneys that their investigation has concluded and that he will not be charged with any crimes,” the statement said.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. The development was first reported by CNN.

While he is a relatively junior member of Congress, Gaetz has gained national attention through his frequent cable news appearances in recent years in which he offered an unvarnished defense of Trump. But few Republicans had rushed to support him as the investigation unfolded and shadowed his career, and some treated him like a pariah.

Just last month, Gaetz again ran afoul of his fellow Republicans, when he was among a group of hard-right conservatives who opposed GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the House speakership and who forced McCarthy to a record 15 ballots. At one point, Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican ally of McCarthy, angrily confronted Gaetz on the House floor, telling Gaetz that he would regret his decision. Lawmakers yelled in disbelief as Rogers was held back by a colleague. McCarthy eventually prevailed in the speaker’s race.

Federal prosecutors were investigating whether Gaetz and onetime political ally Joel Greenberg paid underage girls and escorts or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, according to two people familiar with the case who were not authorized to public discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Greenberg, a fellow Republican who served as the tax collector in Florida’s Seminole County, admitted as part of a plea deal with prosecutors that he paid women and an underage girl to have sex with him and other men. The men were not identified in court documents when he pleaded guilty.

Greenberg was sentenced in late 2022 to 11 years in federal prison for a variety of crimes.

Federal investigators were looking into a trip that Gaetz took to the Bahamas with a group of women and Jason Pirozzolo, a hand surgeon and Gaetz campaign donor, and whether the women were paid or received gifts to have sex with the men, said a person familiar with the matter.

David Haas, a lawyer for Pirozzolo, said in a statement Wednesday that he received a similar notification from the Justice Department about the investigation being closed.

“Dr. Pirozzolo requests that he and his family’s privacy be respected as the last few years have been extremely difficult to endure,” Haas said.

Prosecutors had also been investigating whether Gaetz and his associates tried to secure government jobs for some of the women, the people said. Prosecutors were scrutinizing Gaetz’s connections to the medical marijuana sector, including whether his associates sought to influence legislation Gaetz sponsored.

The House ethics committee in April 2021 announced an investigation into Gaetz. The opening of that bipartisan inquiry was one of the first official indications that Gaetz’s party leaders were willing to scrutinize his actions.

___

Anderson reported from St. Petersburg, Florida, and Price from New York. Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

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