Matt Gaetz addresses sex trafficking allegations in Ohio rally speech

Matt Gaetz addresses sex trafficking allegations in Ohio rally speech
Joel Greenberg, an associate of the Florida congressman, expected to plead guilty in court on Monday

Republican congressman Matt Gaetz addressed his sexual misconduct allegations at a political rally on Saturday equating them with legislative budget earmarks.

“I’m being falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favours,” Representative Gaetz said during his speech at the Ohio Political Summit. “Yet, Congress has reinstituted a process that legalises the corrupt act of exchanging money for favours, through earmarks, and everybody knows that that’s the corruption.”

The Florida Republican’s remarks come as Joel Greenberg, a former tax official and associate of Rep. Gaetz, is expected to appear in court on Monday to formally enter a guilty plea on six charges: producing a false identification document, identity theft, wire fraud, stalking, conspiracy, and sex trafficking of a minor.

As part of his plea deal Mr Greenberg has agreed to cooperate fully with the Justice Department’s investigation and potential prosecution of any other individuals. He also has agreed to testify in court if needed.

This agreement could impact the congressman who is under investigation by the Justice Department over the possible sex trafficking of a minor. The full implications of Mr Greenberg’s cooperation are not yet known but Rep. Gaetz is not mentioned in his associate’s plea deal.

Federal prosecutors were investigating if Mr Gaetz or Mr Greenberg used the internet to find women to pay for sex, and if the lawmaker had a sexual relationship with a minor who was paid to travel with him, according to The New York Times.

Mr Gaetz, who has had a meteoric rise in the Republican party and is a staunch supporter of former president Donald Trump, denies all allegations of sexual misconduct. No charges have been brought against the lawmaker.

“It is verifiably false that I have travelled with a 17-year-old woman,” Mr Gaetz told Fox News when he addressed the allegations last month.

New allegations surfaced on Friday in a report from The Daily Beast. The outlet alleged that Rep. Gaetz snorted cocaine and had a sexual and financial relationship with an escort.

The escort named in the allegations is Megan Zalonka.

Mr Gaetz’s office did not respond to a request for comment from The Independent.

Logan Circle Group, a public relations firm hired by Mr Gaetz, said in a statement to The Independent: “Congressman Gaetz won’t be commenting on whether he dated or didn’t date specific women. The privacy of women living private lives should be protected.”

The Independent has also contacted Ms Zalonka’s attorney, criminal defence lawyer Mark J O’Brien, for comment.

Mr Gaetz spent Saturday’s event rallying against prominent Republicans including Utah Senator Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, the former speaker of the House.

Anthony Gonzalez, a former NFL player and current Republican representative for Ohio, was also lambasted by the Florida lawmaker.

“Is it likely that the Anthony Gonzalez congressional career might mirror the Anthony Gonzalez NFL career?” Mr Gaetz told the crowd. “Whole lot of hype, first round draft pick, out in four years.”

In response, Rep. Gonzalez tweeted during the speech, appearing to allude to the investigation Mr Gaetz currently faces.

“Ending child exploitation remains one of my top policy initiatives in Congress,” Rep. Gonzalez posted on Saturday. “Anyone engaged in these heinous acts needs to be held accountable and taken off the streets.”