Matt Gaetz hired legal firm used by Jeffrey Epstein and El Chapo, campaign report shows

Gaetz’s campaign has spent $135,000 on legal expenses in the past year as his troubles have mounted.
U.S. Rep Matt Gaetz, R- Fla., speaks at the Brownwood Hotel and Spa in The Villages, Florida, on Friday, May 7, 2021.
U.S. Rep Matt Gaetz, R- Fla., speaks at the Brownwood Hotel and Spa in The Villages, Florida, on Friday, May 7, 2021.
Published July 15, 2021|Updated July 15, 2021

With his legal troubles still looming over him, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz’s campaign paid $25,000 last month to a law firm that represented convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, Mexican drug lord El Chapo and former mobsters, according to his most recent campaign finance report.

In all, Gaetz’s campaign paid $50,000 in legal expenses in June, pushing the Florida Republican’s total campaign legal costs in the past year to over $135,000.

The mounting bills coincide with the reported timeline of an ongoing federal investigation into sex trafficking that involves Gaetz and former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg. According to the New York Times, investigators are exploring payments made to women in exchange for sex, a trip to the Bahamas and whether Gaetz had sex with an underage girl. The probe began last year.

Related: Gaetz associate pleads guilty to sex trafficking charges

Prior to the investigation, Gaetz’s campaign had spent little on legal expenses.

Gaetz has not been charged with any crimes and he has denied any wrongdoing. He has continued to soldier on in Congress, where he remains one of its most outspoken members and an ardent defender of former President Donald Trump. He recently promised to vote to install Trump as Speaker of the House and this week attended a rally to end the conservatorship of pop star Britney Spears.

Gaetz continues to campaign for re-election in his Panhandle district. His campaign brought in more than $1.3 million in the most recent quarter, a hefty sum.

Related: Gaetz, Greene take mantle of Trump's populism at Florida rally

Stetson law professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy said campaign funds can be used for legal fees but not for a politician’s personal legal expenses.

It is not clear whether the federal investigation would be considered tied to his campaign or office, nor is it clear what the campaign used the legal fees for. Gaetz’s campaign reports simply list the payments as going toward “legal consulting.”

“Our (Federal Election Commission) filings speak for themselves,” Gaetz spokesman Harlan Hill said. “Despite an endless stream of lies from the media, Congressman Gaetz continues to be among the most prodigious fundraisers in Congress and is the only Republican who doesn’t accept donations from federal lobbyists or PACs. He thanks his tens of thousands of donors and promises to always fight for them.”

Hill declined to elaborate further on the payments.

Brett Kappel, a nationally recognized campaign finance expert, said if a criminal case involves bribery or campaign finance violations, then it would be okay to use a campaign account to pay those legal fees.

“They may not, however, use campaign funds to pay legal fees for investigations into personal activities unrelated to their campaigns or duties as a member of Congress,” Kappel said.

Gaetz paid two law firms each $25,000 in June. The first payment was sent on June 14 to Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, a law firm with offices in Tampa, New York and Washington, D.C. The second was to the Marc Fernich Law Office on June 28.

Marc Fernich is a defense attorney with a roster of high-profile clients. In addition to Epstein and El Chapo, he represented convicted mobster John Gotti and other alleged crime bosses, millionaire pharmaceutical executive Gigi Jordan against accusations she murdered her son, and Ferenc Koreh, who, according to the New York Times, edited pro-Nazi newspapers in his native Hungary during World War II that called for the ’'de-Jewification” of his country.

Neither Fernich nor his law firm have previously provided legal consulting services to a federal campaign, according to a federal campaign finance database. Fernich could not immediately be reached for comment by phone or email.

Gaetz previously enlisted the legal services of Venable, LLP in Baltimore. However, that firm was not listed on the most recent campaign finance report covering expenses for April through June. During that period, Gaetz also paid $15,000 to Drake Ventures LLC, a company operated by convicted Trump ally Roger Stone.