Monday, May 17, 2021

Former Seminole official Joel Greenberg indicted again on fraud charges

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Just five days after he appeared in shackles in a federal courtroom, accused by prosecutors of stalking a political opponent, Joel Greenberg filed paperwork with the state to resurrect a pair of defunct companies, Greenberg Media and DG3 Network.

He would later use those businesses to obtain more than $432,000 in fraudulent loans through a program meant to help small businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic — with the help of a federal employee whom he had bribed, prosecutors now allege.

Those and other new allegations were detailed in an indictment filed Tuesday against Greenberg — the former Seminole County tax collector’s fourth — including charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to bribe a public official and theft of government property.

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The new indictment charges that Greenberg carried out a scheme to defraud the Tax Collector’s Office and Seminole County “of money and property” — using his elected position to “embezzle and divert” more than $400,000, including through purchases of digital currency.

He also used his agency’s funds to buy himself personal items, federal prosecutors allege — including memorabilia autographed by NBA legends Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

Greenberg’s attorney, Fritz Scheller of Orlando, would only say that he was expecting federal prosecutors to file the additional charges, as those were part of the U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation into Greenberg.

“I wasn’t surprised by this,” he said. “These charges have been planned.”

Greenberg stole hundreds of thousands from his public office, federal authorities allege, including by using his office’s funds to buy cryptocurrency for himself and using the assets of his office to sell “cryptocurrency mining machines” to his own benefit.

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Greenberg, prosecutors say, used American Express cards from the county agency to buy himself cryptocurrency. He also created a bank account in the agency’s name “for which he was the sole signatory” which he used to divert money from the public agency, the new indictment states.

The then-tax collector also falsified the memo lines of checks to conceal “the true personal nature” of transactions,” prosecutors say.

In one of a slew of examples, authorities say Greenberg claimed he was going to use $200,000 for an investment in his office, when he actually planned to use the money to buy cryptocurrency for himself.

The scheme also involved a business Greenberg established, Government Blockchain Systems, LLC, the indictment states. Among other allegations, it says Greenberg set up an Amazon account for the company which he used to sell cryptocurrency mining machines that he had purchased with funds from the Tax Collector’s Office.

Greenberg “would and did keep the proceeds” from selling the machines, prosecutors say.

Greenberg formed the private Government Blockchain Systems in July 2019 at the county’s Tax Collector’s administrative office in Lake Mary to encrypt and migrate information from driver’s licenses, property taxes, concealed weapons permits and other functions into blockchain technology.

Greenberg said that would make residents’ personal information more secure. The Tax Collector’s Office even had a link on its website for residents to make payments in cryptocurrency.

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However, a forensic audit of the Tax Collector’s Office commissioned by Seminole County last year found Greenberg billed the public office $65,860 in 2019 to buy computer servers for Government Blockchain. Greenberg eventually returned the money to the office through a series of checks.

The computer equipment was stored in a locked room at the Tax Collector’s administrative offices in Lake Mary that only Greenberg had access to. Employees told the Orlando Sentinel that they were ordered to not ask questions about it.

The new bribery and theft charges pertain to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, created to provide economic relief to small businesses that suffered a temporary loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Greenberg sought and received loans through the program through his revived corporations, Greenberg Media and DG3 Network, authorities say.

Greenberg first formed DG3 in 2014, and the company specialized in outdoor, radio and digital advertising before it closed a year later.

Greenberg sought to reinstate the businesses with the state of Florida five days after his June 23 arrest, records show.

Loan applications for the companies falsely claimed that the businesses had combined to bring in nearly $1.2 million in revenue over the 12 months prior to Feb. 1, 2020, and employed 12 people between them, the indictment states.

Another false claim in the applications: that Greenberg was not “presently subject to an indictment, criminal information, arraignment, or other means by which formal criminal charges are brought in any jurisdiction.” In fact, he was already charged in the ever-growing case against him.

To gain approval for the loans, Greenberg paid an unnamed employee of the U.S. Small Business Administration for her help preparing and processing the loans, the indictment states. She also allegedly “manipulate[d] the status of [the loans] to trigger” payouts for Greenberg’s applications.

In addition to the employee, who had been with the SBA as a loan specialist since May 2020, the scheme also allegedly involved an unnamed “Recruiter Conspirator,” who is described in the indictment as “a friend of” Greenberg, and who referred him to the SBA employee.

Greenberg paid a $3,000 bribe to a company controlled by the SBA employee, the indictments state.

Greenberg resigned as tax collector in June, after he was arrested at his home by federal agents. He now faces at least 33 federal charges, including previously revealed allegations that he stalked a political opponent, illegally used a state database to create fake IDs and sex-trafficked a minor.

Greenberg is currently in the Orange County Jail awaiting his trial, which is scheduled for mid-June, though it’s possible the new charges could lead to a delay.

He is scheduled to be arraigned on the new counts on April 9.

The latest charges against Greenberg were filed the day the New York Times reported that the investigation of him had led to a probe into potential sex trafficking offenses by his friend U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, allegedly concerning a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl.

Gaetz has not been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing, alleging he is instead the victim of an extortion scheme.

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