MIAMI — A new name has surfaced tied to the scandal engulfing Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz: Joe Ellicott, a close friend and former employee of the elected tax collector who pleaded guilty to a host of crimes Monday.
Nicknamed “Big Joe,” Ellicott was listed in a federal grand jury subpoena sent to a different individual and obtained by POLITICO. The subpoena also lists Gaetz and two friends of his, including former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, who has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors as they examine whether the congressman had sex with a 17-year-old and paid her for it in 2017.
The Dec. 28, 2020 subpoena states that the grand jury is investigating alleged crimes “involving commercial sex acts with adult and minor women, as well as obstruction of justice” and seeks any communications, documents, recordings and payments the individual had with Ellicott, Gaetz and Greenberg from January 2016 until now.
Two sources familiar with the investigation say Ellicott is also being scrutinized for alleged sex trafficking of a minor.
The grand jury subpoena provides new information on who federal investigators are looking into, as well as additional details on the kinds of information authorities are seeking — documents, video recordings and communications — as they looked into the Republican lawmaker earlier this year. The subpoena, as well as Greenberg’s cooperation with prosecutors, appears to increase the legal peril the congressman is facing.
Ellicott didn’t return two messages left on his cellphone.
A spokesperson for Gaetz couldn’t be reached for comment. But in previous interviews with POLITICO about Ellicott, Gaetz said he barely knew him and didn’t associate with him when he was in the Orlando area. Gaetz’s spokesperson, Harlan Hill, has repeatedly pointed out that Greenberg falsely accused a political rival of being a pedophile, which resulted in a stalking charge that Greenberg just pleaded guilty to.
Greenberg is trying to get a lesser sentence in giving prosecutors evidence that Gaetz allegedly sex-trafficked a minor. Gaetz has denied having sexual relations with an underage girl and paying anyone for sex.
Ellicott was one of Greenberg’s closest friends and was a groomsman at the former tax collector’s wedding to his wife, Abby Greenberg. Before he was elected to office in 2016, Joel Greenberg paid to broadcast a local sports-themed radio show, and Ellicott would sometimes appear as “Big Joe.”
After Greenberg assumed office, he hired Ellicott and other friends in a spending spree that went against his campaign promise to end “crony capitalism,” according to one of the numerous Orlando Sentinel stories that detailed the dysfunction and corruption that unfolded on Greenberg’s watch. Ellicott, who ran a collectibles store and lived with his mother, had no experience in taxation or government matters but earned a $97,248 annual salary as assistant deputy tax collector.
As scandals engulfed Greenberg, Ellicott was accused of sexually harassing a woman who worked in the Seminole County tax collecting office. The woman sent the office a letter on Aug. 28, 2019, threatening to sue over the alleged harassment that listed a host of inappropriate comments Ellicott allegedly made to her, including “how much he wants sex from young women,” and “how he uses women sexually when they are in desperate situations such as a young student or a single mom,” according to a copy of the letter.
Travis R. Hollifield, the attorney representing the sexual harassment victim, said the case resulted in a “a quick legal settlement” three months later for $40,000. The case has not been previously reported.
“I can only speculate they had an interest in ensuring this didn’t end up in the press. At the time, there was negative press swirling around that office,” Hollifield said.
According to federal records in the case and interviews with associates of Greenberg and Gaetz, Greenberg met women on the SeekingArrangement website for “sugar babies” looking to be introduced to “sugar daddies,” who would pay their expenses. Greenberg, mutual friends said, introduced Gaetz to women he met on the site. However, they said, when the North Florida congressman was visiting the Central Florida politician, the two would not associate with other men, including Ellicott.
The grand jury subpoena mentioning Ellicott, Greenberg and Gaetz by name also listed a fourth person: Halsey Beshears, a former state House member who served with Gaetz in the state Legislature. Beshears also served as the secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation but resigned that position amid the investigation tied to a Bahamas trip he took with Gaetz and other women.
The subpoena seeks any documents and communications the individual had with Beshears. It specifically requested photographs, videos, documents and “communications with or records of payment to or from any women you met through the above individuals or who attended parties, gatherings, or events also attended by you and any of the above individuals from January 2016 to the present.”
Under federal law, it’s illegal to transport a person across state lines for the purposes of engaging in prostitution. One of the women on the trip, granted anonymity to shield her from harassment, previously said none of the women were prostitutes and everyone was of age. A different federal law also prohibits having sex with a person under 18 connected to a commercial transaction.
Greenberg resigned his office June 24, 2020, the day after authorities arrested him for sending the letter falsely accusing the schoolteacher. When he was arrested, federal agents found he was in possession of fake IDs that he made in his tax collector’s office. Subsequent indictments accused him of ID theft, sex-trafficking the minor, stealing local tax dollars in a cryptocurrency scheme and defrauding the federal government’s Covid relief act to help small businesses.
Greenberg pleaded guilty to six criminal counts involving each of those crimes.
Greenberg admitted to the last scheme involving Covid relief money by reactivating a media company he used for “The Joel Greenberg Show” that sometimes featured “Big Joe” Ellicott. According to federal documents, Greenberg used the media company to fraudulently obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal Covid relief funds.
While Greenberg instantly quit his job after his indictment, Ellicott was able to keep his for months. He was let go after his contract expired on Sept. 30, 2020, according to the tax collector’s office.
“I’m not surprised he kept his job after he harassed my client,” said Hollifield. “What I’ve learned throughout all these scandals is nothing really surprises me.”