As we follow the news of U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz (R, Florida), some have asked whether the allegations against the congressman necessarily involve illegal behavior.
After all, in North Carolina the age of consent is 16. That means that consensual sex with a 17-year-old is legal, as long as the parties are unrelated, and neither is a substitute parent or custodian of the other.
So far, no charges have been filed against Rep. Gaetz. He is being investigated by the Department of Justice, according to sources interviewed by the New York Times, to determine if he violated federal sex trafficking statutes by inducing someone under 18 to cross state lines to engage in sex for money or valuables. If Rep. Gaetz did engage in this conduct, it is not clear he knew the girl was only 17.
It’s also unclear where the alleged sex for hire occurred. Unfortunately for Rep. Gaetz, the age of consent in Florida is 18. In Washington, D.C., the age of consent is 16, but not when there is a significant difference in the parties’ age. That said, the federal law in question protects anyone under 18.
Gaetz denies all wrongdoing
When the federal investigation was first reported, Gaetz categorically denied traveling with any 17 year-old girls. He claimed not to be the target of the investigation. He said he suspected that “someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
Furthermore, he claimed the investigation itself was merely a scheme to extort him and his family for money.
House investigating Gaetz
In addition to the federal investigation, Gaetz faces an investigation by the House Ethics Committee. While the federal investigation is mostly under wraps, the Ethics Committee has stated publicly that Gaetz is under investigation for allegations including:
- Engaging in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use
- Sharing inappropriate images or videos on the House floor
- Misusing state identification records
- Converting campaign funds to personal use
- Accepting a bribe, improper gratuity or impermissible gift in violation of House Rules, laws or other standards of conduct
The committee made clear that the existence of the investigation does not on its own imply Gaetz is guilty. If any serious allegations are found to be true, Gaetz could lose his committee assignments and possibly face expulsion from the house. However, the committee generally defers action on its investigations when the Justice Department has its own underway.
Gaetz associate pleads guilty, agrees to cooperate
According to the New York Times, Gaetz’s former confidant, Joel Greenberg, recently pled guilty to a range of federal charges, including sex trafficking of the same 17-year-old girl Gaetz is allegedly accused of trafficking. Greenberg had previously told investigators that he saw Gaetz have sex with the girl and also that she was paid for the sex.
In an 86-page indictment, Greenberg also pled guilty to identity theft, wire fraud, and using his position of tax collector in Seminole County, Florida, to defraud the office. The plea agreement requires Greenberg to cooperate in the ongoing investigation.
As relates to the sex trafficking, Greenberg stated that he introduced a minor to adult men who then engaged in commercial sex acts with her. On other occasions, Greenberg helped arrange “sugar daddy” relationships with men where they could pay women for sex but disguise those payments as relating to school or other expenses. Greenberg did not directly name Gaetz in his guilty plea.
It all depends on the facts
Even if Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old in a state with a low age of consent, it would not be legal for him to pay for that sex. It would probably not be legal for him to travel with that teenager if the purpose of the trip was sexual in nature.
We simply don’t know what the Justice Department is alleging or what proof it may have. Gaetz continues to insist the investigations are politically motivated and that he has done nothing wrong.