A man described as a “close friend” and “former employee” of disgraced Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg has been charged and has agreed to plead guilty to federal crimes.
According to an information filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Joseph “Big Joe” Ellicott is accused of two counts: (1) conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services fraud; and (2) one count of distribution of a controlled substance. The information, a subsequent waiver of indictment, and a plea agreement were all filed at exactly the same time on exactly the same day — 4:05 p.m. on Mon., Jan. 24 — signaling that the defendant’s charges and plea were highly choreographed with the federal government and were likely the result of significant cooperation by Ellicott with whatever federal prosecutors were seeking.
Greenberg, of course, is the close friend and alleged “wingman” of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who has denied involvement with any criminal enterprise.
Greenberg pleaded guilty to sex trafficking a minor and to bribery involving a public official. He has yet to be sentenced; the court record in his case has long indicated that he is heavily cooperating with a sprawling federal probe. The probe has reportedly resulted in the seizure of the cell phones of Gaetz and his former girlfriend; Greenberg’s attorney has also warned that Gaetz should be worried.
Citing anonymous yet allegedly knowledgeable sources, the New York Times reported in late March 2021 that federal prosecutors were attempting to ascertain whether Gaetz paid a 17-year-old girl to travel with him while the pair was engaged in a sexual relationship.
Gaetz has long rubbished those insinuations.
“I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward,” he told the Times in its initial March 2021 report.
Gaetz also told Axios that any “allegations of sexual misconduct against” him were “false.”
“They are rooted in an extortion effort against my family for $25 million . . . in exchange for making this case go away,” he added.
Another man, Stephen M. Alford, 62, also of Florida, was eventually charged in a separate extortion plot similar to the one Gaetz alleged.
Ellicott, who was also a radio personality, is described in a federal information as having been “hired” by a “local government agency of Seminole County, Florida” as a “Special Projects Manager.” That’s the same county where Greenberg worked as tax collector.
The Ellicott charging document continues with vagaries — some of them thinly veiled — as to the precise identities of other individuals referenced. It basically alleges that an “elected official” or “public official” — presumably Greenberg — took charge of an “agency” — presumably the tax collector’s office — and that an unnamed “Contractor Conspirator” became involved at some point before or in January 2017.
Around that date, the Conspirator Contractor began providing “goods and services” to the agency under an agreement with the elected official. Invoices for those goods and services were “inflated to enrich the Contractor Conspirator . . . and to defraud the Governmental Agency,” the Ellicott documents allege. Kickbacks and bribes were allegedly then provided to the public official, and Ellicott is accused of being the “intermediary” who ferried the cash.
More specifically, the charging documents say the Conspirator Contractor withdrew money from a bank account in Florida. From there, Ellicott was called by telephone to pick up the currency for delivery to the public official. A “false cover story” was allegedly cooked up in an effort to hide the dealings; an Ellicott business called “Uncle Joe’s Coins” was used as a pass-through organization for some of the transactions. The public official received some of the money through Ellicott and ultimately deposited it into his own bank accounts, the charging document says.
The Conspirator Contractor also allegedly concealed the transactions by perpetrating a “false receipt” that said the cash involved the sale of furniture, the court documents allege. They also say that an American Express credit card was involved in some transactions and that Ellicott and the others “did perform acts and make statements to hide and conceal” the scope of the scheme.
The controlled substance count alleges that Ellicott possessed and sought to distribute Adderall. According to an agreed-upon “factual basis” document, Ellicott provided a “purchaser” with $5,000 worth of the the drug for more than two years. The purchaser claimed one of the transactions was allegedly for a “full body massage.”
That same “factual basis” document also says $6,000 passed through Ellicott’s hands and subsequently was covered up via the fake furniture sale — through myriad financial calculations about the value of the allegedly inflated contracts for goods and services are also listed.
The plea agreement says Ellicott was admitting guilt on both counts.
Current Seminole County Tax Collector J.R. Kroll addressed the planned guilty plea by Ellicott.
“We’ve long suspected these criminal kickbacks were taking place in some form and I’m grateful for the work of the U.S. District Attorney to find the evidence to root out the extent of the corruption,” said Kroll, according to Orlando FOX affiliate WOFL. “It is my hope the individuals who conspired to steal from the citizens of Seminole County are brought to justice and punished to the full extent of the law.”
The Daily Beast reported that “Ellicott knew intimate details about the teenage girl” caught in the money-for-sex enterprise federal authorities are said to be broadly investigating. Ellicott also “texted what essentially amounted to a confession” that a group of associates was “scrambling to try and coverup details about their sex with a 17-year-old from the feds,” the website added, citing messages it obtained.
The Daily Beast said Ellicott was a “groomsman at Greenberg’s wedding in 2016,” that Ellicott and Greenberg “co-hosted sports talk radio shows,” and otherwise socialized. Ellicott became Greenberg’s “right-hand man as the ‘assistant deputy tax collector’ for Seminole County,” the website continued.
Read some of the federal court file below:
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