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Gaetz Faces House Ethics, Fed Probe    04/10 12:28

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House Ethics Committee announced an investigation 
Friday into Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz as federal prosecutors probing sex 
trafficking allegations against him are also scrutinizing the actions of some 
of his political allies and fellow Florida Republicans as part of a broader 
public corruption inquiry.

   Federal agents have, in recent months, been examining Gaetz's connections to 
several other influential Florida political figures.

   They include Florida state senator Jason Brodeur; Halsey Beshears, the 
state's former top business regulator; Chris Dorworth, a lobbyist who had 
served in the state House of Representatives; and Jason Pirozzolo, a hand 
surgeon and Gaetz campaign donor who served on the board of the Orlando Airport 
Authority, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

   Brodeur and Beshears did not respond to repeated calls seeking comment. An 
attorney for Pirozzolo also did not respond to a request for comment. Dorworth 
didn't comment.

   The FBI's examination of a wide range of topics involving Gaetz and his 
associates exemplifies the breadth of the investigation.

   Gaetz, who has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, has retained two prominent 
New York attorneys while facing a Justice Department investigation into sex 
trafficking allegations involving underage girls.

   The scrutiny includes an examination of a trip that Gaetz and Pirozzolo took 
to the Bahamas with a group of women, and federal agents are looking into 
whether they were paid or received gifts to have sex with the men, the person 
said. CBS News first reported details of the trip.

   The FBI has also started questioning people about that trip and others that 
Gaetz and his associates took with women, and agents are examining whether any 
of the women were later hired into government positions as political favors, 
the person said.

   Investigators have been scrutinizing financial records, contact witnesses, 
former staff members and others who they believe may have been aware of the 
activities, according to the person.

   The person could not publicly discuss details of the ongoing investigation 
and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

   Gaetz has not been charged with a crime and has sent fundraising appeals 
that portray him as a victim of a "smear campaign." During a high-profile 
appearance Friday night at former President Donald Trump's Doral golf club in 
Miami, he vowed, "I have not yet begun to fight."

   "I'm built for the battle and I'm not going anywhere," Gaetz said. "The 
smears against me range from distortions of my personal life to wild -- and I 
mean wild -- conspiracy theories."

   But a potentially ominous sign occurred in a Florida court Thursday when it 
was revealed that a Gaetz associate, Joel Greenberg, a former county tax 
collector, is working toward a plea deal. Such a move could potentially open 
the door for Greenberg's cooperation against Gaetz.

   Prosecutors are examining whether Gaetz and Greenberg paid underage girls or 
offered them gifts in exchange for sex, according to two people familiar with 
the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they could not discuss 
details publicly. Greenberg entered a not guilty plea Friday through his 
attorney to a variety of charges ranging from child sex trafficking to fraud. A 
judge has set a May 15 deadline for Greenberg to reach a plea deal.

   The House panel's bipartisan probe is one of the first official indications 
Gaetz's party leaders are willing to scrutinize his actions. It also appears 
sweeping in scope, reaching beyond the reports of sexual misconduct into 
broader allegations of public corruption, according to the committee chairman, 
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and ranking Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski of 
Indiana. Unfolding alongside a federal criminal investigation, the ethics probe 
ensures Gaetz will have to confront simultaneous inquiries even as he maintains 
his innocence and plans to remain in Congress.

   The Ethics Committee conducts its work in secret and usually issues a final 
report on what it finds, often many months later. Punishment for ethics 
violations is up to the House and can include censure, fines and even expulsion 
from Congress.

   Separately Friday, a spokesperson for Gaetz said attorneys Marc Mukasey and 
Isabelle Kirshner will lead his legal team.

   "Matt has always been a fighter. A fighter for his constituents, a fighter 
for the country, and a fighter for the Constitution. He's going to fight back 
against the unfounded allegations against him," the statement said, adding that 
the lawyers "will take the fight to those trying to smear his name with 
falsehoods."

 
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