ORLANDO, Fla. — Joel Greenberg — who as Seminole County’s tax collector trafficked a teenager, stalked a political rival, stole identities and spent taxpayer funds on paid sex and cryptocurrency, among other misdeeds — was sentenced to 11 years in prison Thursday, bringing to a close one of the most stunning cases of political corruption in state history.
Greenberg was elected to public office just over six years ago at the age of 31 and became a rising star in GOP politics, even as he faced one controversy after another. But his abuse of taxpayer funds drew the attention of federal investigators, prompting his downfall.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell handed down Greenberg’s sentence during a morning hearing at the federal courthouse in downtown Orlando. Prosecutors and federal guidelines, factoring in Greenberg’s cooperation with investigators as part of a plea deal, called for a sentence between 9.25 and 11 years.
Before announcing the sentence, Presnell said that in more than 22 years as a federal judge, he had “never experienced a case like this” of public corruption, and called it “chartering new territory.” He noted three times that Greenberg used the Seminole Tax Collector’s Office solely for his own benefit.
“The one thing that stands out to me is the violation of public trust,” the judge said. ”We have an elected tax collector stealing tax money. ... It’s truly outrageous.”
Greenberg acknowledged the harm he had done to Seminole County residents in an apology he read during the hearing.
“I feel remorse for what I have done,” he said, reading from a yellow sheet of paper. “I let you down and betrayed your trust.”
His defense attorney has repeatedly said that Greenberg was a player in a larger racket of criminality involving other public figures, related to election corruption and sex trafficking. And on Wednesday, attorney Fritz Scheller said Greenberg continues to cooperate with federal and state authorities on investigations into about two dozen individuals.
After the hearing, Scheller told reporters that when he took on the case he feared Greenberg would face as much as 30 years in prison. He asked the judge to sentence his client to eight. Still, he said he was pleased with the outcome. Greenberg, he said, “does have a genuine sense of remorse.”
Greenberg’s cooperation has so far helped lead to indictments of several of his former associates, but not U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican and former friend who according to reports came under investigation as a result of the Greenberg probe.