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“Big Joe” Ellicott, a former Florida shock jock with potentially key information about the sex trafficking ring involving Rep. Matt Gaetz, has pleaded guilty in federal court, The Daily Beast has learned.
Ellicott is the long-time best friend of corrupt Florida tax official Joel Greenberg, who was Gaetz’s wingman in the underage sex operation, according to several sources with direct knowledge of their relationship. Last year, The Daily Beast revealed that Ellicott knew intimate details about the teenage girl who was paid for sex by the group—and actually texted what essentially amounted to a confession that they were scrambling to try and coverup details about their sex with a 17-year-old from the feds.
Ellicott was particularly legally exposed through his involvement with Greenberg, who ran the small Central Florida tax agency like a fiefdom where he hired his friends for no-show jobs. That appears to be what took Ellicott down.
In court documents last week, Ellicott was accused of fraud for agreeing to “pay bribes and kickbacks” to a public official and a separate drug crime: illegally selling the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder prescription medicine Adderall. On Jan. 18, Ellicott signed a plea agreement admitting to both crimes.
According to prosecutors, Ellicott was the intermediary in the kickback arrangement, carrying a $6,000 cash bribe from an unnamed tax office contractor to a Public Official—Greenberg. In exchange for the bribe, Greenberg and the contractor worked out a deal where the contractor inflated invoices for work with the tax office, pocketing the difference.
Ellicott also copped to selling a single unnamed client more than $5,000 worth of Adderall over the course of two years. The client made the payments to Ellicott’s company, “Uncle Joe’s Coins,” and transferred money via check and Venmo, according to the agreement. One $95 Venmo payment was disguised as “2 hour full body massage.”
Joe Zwick, an attorney for Ellicott, told The Daily Beast that his client has been cooperating in the sex trafficking case against Gaetz. That case is being handled by Justice Department prosecutors in Washington, D.C., and is separate from the local ongoing investigation into Greenberg and the tax office, which gave rise to the charges in Ellicott’s case.
“This investigation had nothing to do with the sex scandal, but with the unprecedented things Greenberg was doing with the tax office. The big difference is that Joel Greenberg was elected to serve the people, and Joe was not. And the fact that this was done by criminal information not an indictment is pretty telling of how the prosecutors view him in this case,” Zwick said, pointing out that Ellicott was not arrested. “Obviously they value his continued cooperation, as he does as well. We are going to set off sentencing as long as we can, and do everything we can to reduce his time.”
Zwick said a plea hearing had been set for February.
Ellicott’s plea agreement requires him to cooperate with the government in other prosecutions, including possibly testimony before the grand jury and in court. In exchange, Ellicott will not be formally charged by the grand jury, and has a shot at significantly reducing his sentence. He will also enjoy immunity from “any other federal offenses known to the U.S. Attorney’s Office” relating to the two crimes.
That immunity could be sweeping.
The congressman has repeatedly denied engaging in any sex crime and dismissed this federal investigation as a political prosecution. Asked for comment, his office issued this statement: “After nearly a year of false rumors, not a shred of evidence has implicated Congressman Gaetz in wrongdoing. We remain focused on our work representing Floridians.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida, which is working on the Ellicott case and other potential crimes related to Greenberg’s conduct in the tax office, declined to comment about his role as a potential witness in the sex crimes investigation on Wednesday morning.
Although a federal grand jury is underway in Orlando—hearing testimony from witnesses, including Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend—the case is being run by two seasoned prosecutors from the Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. One is Todd Gee, the deputy chief of the DOJ’s public integrity section. The other is Lauren Britsch, who investigated sex crimes but has since moved over to the team that investigates corruption by government officials.
Ellicott allegedly delivered the cash bribe to Greenberg in late Sept. 2017—weeks after Greenberg learned the true age of the teen at the center of the sex trafficking investigation.
According to the plea agreement Greenberg inked last May, minutes after he discovered the girl was underage, Greenberg phoned Gaetz to warn him, placing that call at a specific time on a specific day. Asked about the call, Ellicott’s attorney pointed out that it was made in the tax office—where Ellicott worked—and said that his client “might have some information about that.”