The first thing some of the women were asked to do when they got to the house parties in the gated community in suburban Orlando was to put away their cellphones, according to two women in attendance who spoke to CNN in recent days. The men inside, a who’s who of local Republican officials that often included Rep. Matt Gaetz, did not want the night’s activities documented.
The partygoers, at times dressed in formal wear from a political event they’d just left, mingled and shared drugs like cocaine and ecstasy. Some had sex.
Gaetz, the brash Republican, liked to discuss politics, said one of the women. He behaved like a “frat type of party boy,” she said, sometimes taking pills she believed were recreational drugs.
Details of the parties, which have not been previously reported, were described to CNN by two women who attended several of them over the past few years. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.
The behavior of Gaetz and the other high-powered men at the events, and a pattern of digital payments that followed, will likely be items of interest to the Justice Department as part of its probe of Gaetz that includes allegations of sex trafficking and prostitution.
Federal investigators are examining whether Gaetz engaged in a relationship with a woman that began when she was 17, according to people familiar with the investigation. The investigators have also pursued allegations from witnesses and other evidence that Gaetz may have used cash and drugs in his dealings with the young women.
After some parties, money would change hands. According to receipts reviewed by CNN, Gaetz and his associate Joel Greenberg, a former county tax commissioner indicted last year on multiple federal charges, used digital payment applications to send hundreds of dollars to at least one woman who attended the parties.
The receipts viewed by CNN record payments that took place between 2018 and 2019 and include at least one that indicated in a label that it was to compensate for travel.
One of the women said she received money from Greenberg after some of the parties. She said that some of the payments were for providing sex but would not say who she slept with. She did say she never received money directly from Gaetz.
Some of the parties were more low-key affairs, the other woman said. Some took place in hotel suites at the end of alcohol-filled political functions.
“No one ever wants to stop partying, stop drinking, once you’ve had a few glasses of champagne in you,” she said.
A spokesman for Gaetz did not respond directly to CNN’s request for comment but challenged the use of anonymous sources.
According to people familiar with the investigation, authorities have spoken with some of the women involved with the congressman and his close friend, Greenberg, the former tax commissioner in Seminole County, Florida, who is currently facing 33 federal charges, including sex trafficking of a minor.
One of the women who spoke to CNN said she did so in part because the picture of Gaetz as potentially connected to sex trafficking that has emerged in recent days does not align with what she saw. Both women said that they never saw anyone at the parties who appeared to be underage. Neither has spoken with federal investigators, they said.
Gaetz has denied ever paying for sex and over the past two weeks has sought to frame the allegations against him as the result of political bias in the justice system and the media.
He has also accused investigators of twisting his generosity towards women into something criminal.
“Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime,” Gaetz said in an interview with Fox News late last month.
The New York Times first reported that Gaetz made digital payments to women, and last Thursday, The Daily Beast also reported on Venmo transactions between Gaetz and Greenberg, and Greenberg and young women.
Greenberg has been providing investigators with information since last year, including about encounters he and Gaetz had with women who were given cash or gifts in exchange for sex, a source familiar with the case confirms to CNN.
Greenberg has met several times with investigators, and his cooperation, which was first reported by The New York Times, could put additional legal pressure on Gaetz as investigators work to determine whether he broke sex-trafficking or prostitution laws himself.
Last week, Greenberg’s attorney and a federal prosecutor told a judge that Greenberg would likely enter into a plea agreement in the coming weeks, possibly giving the Justice Department even more access to a witness with intimate knowledge of any potential wrongdoing by Gaetz.
Speaking to reporters after the Thursday hearing last week, Fritz Scheller, Greenberg’s attorney, declined to say if his client would be willing to cooperate as part of the potential plea deal and would not divulge if Greenberg had already met with prosecutors to describe what he knows about Gaetz.
He added, however, that his client is “uniquely situated.”
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said
Scheller declined to comment to CNN for this story.
The investigation of Gaetz began in the closing months of the Trump-era Justice Department under then-Attorney General William Barr and was initially part of a broader probe into trafficking allegations against Greenberg.
As part of the ongoing probe, investigators are scrutinizing Gaetz’s connections to several associates in Florida who may have benefited politically in return for providing the congressman favors including escorts, travel, and campaign donations, according to the sources familiar with the investigation.
One event in focus is a trip that Gaetz took to the Bahamas with friends and young women, CNN has reported. Investigators are seeking to determine whether Gaetz was provided travel and women in exchange for political favors as part of their broader probe, the sources said.
A former member of the Florida House of Representatives and the son of a powerful figure in Republican state politics, Gaetz cultivated a tight-knit circle of politically connected friends who stayed in his orbit after he went to Washington in 2017.
In recent days, a number of those allies have been drawn into the scandal. Chris Dorworth, a former state legislator whom Gaetz has described as a friend and “legislative mentor,” stepped down from his post at a high-powered lobbying firm on Friday, a day after The New York Times reported that he had spoken with Gaetz about running a third-party candidate in a local election – which could be considered a violation of campaign finance laws if the third-party candidate were secretly paid for running.
“The current political environment is nasty, and I told Brian I don’t think it’s fair for the recent media storm to take away from their missions,” Dorworth wrote on Twitter, referencing Brian Ballard, the founder of the Florida-based lobbying group with close ties to the administration of former President Donald Trump.
Dorworth told CNN on Wednesday that he did not recall talking with Gaetz about running a third candidate and pointed out that he didn’t believe it would have been illegal if it did occur. He did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on his resignation.
So far, Greenberg appears to be the only person in Gaetz’ orbit who is currently facing charges related to the scandal. First indicted in 2020 over the alleged stalking of a political rival, Greenberg has since been accused by federal prosecutors of unlawfully accessing a motor vehicle database to obtain and use the personal information of people including some who he “was engaged in ‘sugar daddy’ relationships” with.
According to a person close to Greenberg, the former tax commissioner regularly sent identically worded messages to multiple women inviting them to parties through so-called sugar daddy dating websites, where men connect with women that they usually compensate with money or gifts.
Few details about the sex trafficking of a minor charge levied at Greenberg last year have been revealed to the public, but in an August indictment, prosecutors said the minor was between the ages of 14 and 17 years old and accused Greenberg of unlawfully obtaining a photograph and driver identification number for the person.
People close to both Greenberg and Gaetz have described them as good friends whose connection was as much about Republican Party politics in Florida as after-hours socializing.
Greenberg, a newcomer to elected office when he won the county seat in 2016, enjoyed the political status he gained from friendships with Gaetz and other lawmakers, the people close to the men said.
Out of the public eye, Greenberg would boast to friends that he was partying with Gaetz and women, according to the person close to Greenberg.
For his part, Gaetz appeared to have found an ally in Greenberg, donating $1,000 to one of his campaigns, and promoting him for higher office in an interview.
“If Joel were to run from Seminole Co, I think he’d become the next congressman from the 7th district,” Gaetz told a Florida radio station in 2017.
That relationship is now being tested. Gaetz, in turn, has boosted his defense team, late last week hiring two New York lawyers, including Marc Mukasey, a former federal prosecutor who has also represented the Trump Organization.
This story has been updated with additional reporting about Greenberg providing investigators with information since last year, as well as to include comments from Dorworth.