Former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg reportedly abused his power while in office to search a confidential database more than 700 times for the personal information of his political rivals, sexual partners and celebrities
Matt Gaetz‘s former wingman used his role as a Florida county tax collector to search a confidential database more than 700 times to get the personal information of his political rivals, sexual partners and even celebrities like Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, records have revealed.
Joel Greenberg, 37, pleaded guilty in May to six of the nearly three dozen charges he faced, including sex trafficking of a minor, and he admitted that he had paid at least one underage girl to have sex with him and other men.
As part of his plea deal, he admitted to accessing a driver and vehicle information database known by the acronym DAVID to ‘investigate his sexual partners’.
The system contains personal information like Social Security Numbers, birth dates, addresses, signatures and medical and disability information.
But after a public records request by the Orlando Sentinel and the Florida Center for Government Accountability – a watchdog group – it was revealed he had also used the system to make hundreds of searches on political rivals, family members, county employees and even celebrities.
The searches took place between August 2017 and mid-June 2020, when he was arrested and resigned in disgrace amid the sex trafficking scandal.
Greenberg originally faced 33 federal charges, but prosecutors dropped 27 of them because he agreed to cooperate with the FBI, informing federal prosecutors that he and others had drugged and sexually trafficked a 17-year-old girl across state lines.
The FBI is now examining allegations whether Gaetz paid for sex with a 17-year-old girl in Florida, where the age of consent is 18. Gaetz, a Republican Congressman from Florida, has repeatedly denied the allegations, calling them a smear job. He has not been criminally charged.
Greenberg, though, pleaded guilty to six charges, including sex trafficking of a child, identity theft, stalking, wire fraud and conspiracy to bribe a public official.
In his plea deal, Greenberg admitted to using the system to ‘investigate his sexual partners,’ including a 17-year-old sex trafficking victim, claiming he looked her up in September 2017 ‘because he had reason to believe she was underage.’
Greenberg is now awaiting sentencing for his crimes.
Officials at the Seminole County Tax Collector’s Office (seen here) reportedly found out about the searches last month after receiving a public records request from the Florida Center for Government Accountability
Greenberg allegedly searched for the personal information of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, seen here in 2000, though it is unclear why
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Greenberg had access to the DAVID system as the Seminole County tax collector because the office provides residents with driver’s licenses and ID cards.
It is usually used by criminal justice and law enforcement officials, including police officers and deputy sheriffs while on patrol.
Current Tax Collector JR Kroll said he did not give himself access to the system because ‘there’s no reason why I would need to access anyone’s information or use the system at all in the scope of my job.
‘We have a very capable team of professionals,’ he said.
Officials at the Tax Collector’s office found out about the searches last month after receiving a public records request from the Florida Center for Government Accountability.
An agency spokesman said Greenberg’s actions were ‘not condoned,’ but said that some of the searches could have been made for legitimate purposes if, for instance, someone asked him to check the validity of their driver’s license or state-issued ID.
‘This was an activity by the former tax collector that was not condoned by the DAVID system, and we are working to make sure that this sort of activity does not happen again,’ Alan Byrd, a spokesperson for the Tax Collector’s Office, told Newsweek.
The department now limits who has access to the system to about two dozen employees, mostly managers, who are required to review and sign a statement laying out the acceptable uses for the system.
They office also now conducts an audit every three weeks to review employees’ use of the database.
Meanwhile, more than 900 state and local workers have been caught misusing access to the DAVID system since 2015, some of whom used it to track their former romantic partners.
As a result, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill, which requires officers to get training on how to use state databases appropriately and quadruples penalties for government workers who misuse electronic databases from $500 to $2,000.
Greenberg allegedly used the system in August 2017 to search for information about Seminole Commissioner Brenda Carey and her husband, Fairley Carey.
That same month, the Sentinel reports, Greenberg gave Brenda a trespass warning, forbidding her from entering any Tax Collector’s offices after accusing her of using foul language at a branch office in Sanford.
He also allegedly pried into the personal information of two candidates for Orange County Sheriff in 2018: Darryl Sheppard and Joe Lopez, both of whom ultimately lost to John Mina.
Sheppard, whom the Sentinel described as a political newcomer with a history of legal and financial trouble, came close to winning the race as the only Democrat on the ballot in the deeply blue county because both Mina Lopez, former Republicans, missed a deadline to switch parties, and had to run as independents.
At the same time, Greenberg told others that he was behind Sheppard’s campaign, even claiming he would ‘control’ the Orange County Sheriff’s Office once Sheppard was elected.
Meanwhile, one of his top political advisors – Mike Shirley, who got a lucrative Tax Collector’s Office contract after Greenberg was elected – ran Lopez’s campaign.
Lopez, a retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief, now says he believes Greenberg and Shirley intentionally sabotaged his campaign to ensure that Sheppard would win, and claimed that as a former law enforcement officer his personal information should be exempt from public disclosure.
He called Greenberg’s ‘trail of nefarious acts’ during his time in office ‘disturbing and alarming,’ saying: ‘These are the types of people I used to put in jail.’
Greenberg, left, also reportedly searched his wife, Abby’s, personal information. They are seen here with their two children
Others Greenberg allegedly searched for include Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, though it is not known why.
Searches were also run on retired Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Paul ‘Spike’ Hopkins, who ran for Seminole sheriff last year against incumbent Dennis Lemma; former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King; and former Democratic candidate for Tax Collector Lynn ‘Moira’ Dictor.
‘I feel violated,’ Dictor told the Sentinel. ‘I don’t know what he did with that information.’
But, she said, ‘nothing you could say would surprise me about the depths to which Joel Greenberg would sink to.’
Additionally, the Sentinel reports, Greenberg searched for former state legislator and River Cross developer Chris Dorworth, former deputy county manager Bruce McMenemy, director of community relations for the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando Ben Friedman, Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell and even Seminole County Commissioner Bob Dallari’s parents – including his deceased mother.
‘I am stunned that he did that,’ Dallari said. ‘I don’t get why he would do that. I don’t have an answer.’
Dallari’s parents weren’t the only family members he looked up though – Greenberg also reportedly looked up the personal information of his own wife, Abby Greenberg; his mother, Susan Greenberg; brother, Martin Greenberg; and former uncle Richard Sierra, who worked under him as an attorney for the Tax Collector’s Office.
And, the Sentinel reports, he also looked up Megan Zalonka, a paid escort for Matt Gaetz.
Greenberg allegedly gave Zalonka a $3,500-a-month contract, though others in the office told investigators they didn’t know whether she did any work.
She also had a job with the American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association, owned by Orlando hand doctor and close Gaetz friend Jason Pirozzolo, who has also been swept up in the sex trafficking and corruption investigation due to a trip to the Bahamas he took with Gaetz, former state Rep. Halsey Beshears and several young women.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, is now being investigated by the FBI for allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old girl, a charge he has repeatedly denied
Gaetz, center, is seen with American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association Executive Director Savara Hastings, left, and Megan Zalonka, a paid escort for Gaetz who Greenberg reportedly gave a $3,500-a-month contract
But text messages sent between Greenberg and former local CBS Sports radio host Joe ‘Big Joe’ Ellicott released in May showed the two friends of Gaetz were concerned that others may face legal trouble for allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old girl.
The messages show that Ellicott texted Greenberg that a mutual female friend, who wasn’t named, ‘knew [the minor] was underage the whole time, had sex with her, and they both went [to] see other guys.’
Ellicott also said ‘for other guys she brought ___ along to see, that could be trafficking.’
The ex-radio host is linked via Venmo to Gaetz and a number of women involved in the alleged sex ring.
The messages were sent last year when Greenberg was already being investigated by federal authorities over the alleged ring.
They were meant to vanish after 30 seconds given they were exchanged over Signal but Greenberg took a screenshot of them.
Days before, he had pleaded guilty to sex trafficking a minor as part of a deal with prosecutors that he agreed to in exchange for testifying against Gaetz.
He told prosecutors that he and other adult men drugged and sexually trafficked a 17-year-old girl across state lines, admitting he recruited women for commercial sex acts and paid them more than $70,000 from 2016 to 2018, sometimes through online payment services like Venmo. They include at least one underage girl he paid to have sex with him and others, the plea agreement says.
Prosecutors wrote in the plea agreement that Greenberg had introduced the girl to others, who also ‘engaged in commercial sex acts’ with her.
Greenberg first met the girl online from a website where she was posing as an adult and first paid her $400 after a meeting on a boat, the documents said. He later invited her to hotels in Florida where he and others would have sex with her and supplied her and other people with ecstasy, according to the plea deal.
In total, prosecutors say Greenberg had sex with the girl at least seven times.
Now, federal prosecutors are examining whether Gaetz and Greenberg paid underage girls and escorts or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, according to two Associated Press sources.
Investigators have also been looking at whether Gaetz and his associates tried to secure government jobs for some of the women, the AP sources said.
They are also scrutinizing Gaetz’s connections to the medical marijuana sector, including whether his associates sought to influence legislation Gaetz sponsored, which is tied to the Bahamas trip.
Gaetz has denied the allegations and any accusation of wrongdoing, and has said repeatedly he will not resign from Congress.
A spokesperson for the congressman has said Gaetz ‘never had sex with a minor and has never paid for sex.’