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Florida man connected to Gaetz probe formally enters guilty plea

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A Florida collectibles dealer connected to the federal investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz formally entered a guilty plea in Orlando on Wednesday, marking another twist in the ongoing probe into the Republican congressman.

Joe Ellicott, known as “Big Joe,” pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit fraud and drug charges and has agreed to cooperate with federal authorities. Ellicott is a relatively minor figure in the ongoing Gaetz probe but was listed on a federal grand jury subpoena in December 2020 along with Gaetz and several other men.

One of Ellicott’s attorneys, Joe Zwick, declined to comment Wednesday.

As part of his plea agreement, Ellicott, who remains free on pretrial conditions, has agreed to “cooperate fully with the United States in the investigation and prosecution of other people,” according to court documents. Ellicott’s attorney previously said those individuals include Gaetz, a close ally of former President Donald Trump. Gaetz has stressed that he doesn’t know Ellicott very well — a point Ellicott’s lawyer also emphasized.

Federal authorities have been looking into whether Gaetz obstructed justice and paid to have sex with a 17-year-old about five years ago, in 2017. Gaetz has not been charged with any crime and has consistently denied any wrongdoing. He didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Ellicott’s formal plea in federal court came just days after another individual connected to the Gaetz case — Joel Greenberg — requested another delay in his sentencing.

Greenberg is in many ways at the heart of the federal investigation. A former Seminole County tax collector who pleaded guilty to multiple felonies, Greenberg is close to both Ellicott and Gaetz and was accused of using his position as an elected official for personal enrichment. Friends previously told POLITICO that Greenberg also introduced Gaetz to women he met through online dating sites such as SeekingArrangement.

On Friday, Greenberg’s attorney asked a federal judge to delay his sentencing a third time despite a judge previously setting a firm March sentencing date. U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnelltold parties in November that Greenberg’s sentencing date “is now a deadline that we’re going to have to meet.”

Greenberg has pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including sex trafficking the same 17-year-old victim allegedly in the Gaetz probe. As part of his plea, the former tax collector has agreed to cooperate with authorities in ongoing investigations.

The case against Gaetz appeared to ramp up in mid-January after his former girlfriend was seen entering the federal courthouse in Orlando, where the grand jury examining the probe has been meeting. NBC News reported that Gaetz’ ex-girlfriend, whom POLITICO isn’t identifying to protect her from harassment, testified before the grand jury.

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