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Joel Greenberg named as witness in Florida ‘ghost’ candidate case

The ex-Seminole County tax collector was named in records in the cases against GOP Chair Ben Paris and former candidate Jestine Iannotti.
 
Former Seminole County, Florida, tax collector Joel Greenberg pictured in September 2019. He was named Tuesday as a witness in records in the cases against GOP Chair Ben Paris and former candidate Jestine Iannotti.
Former Seminole County, Florida, tax collector Joel Greenberg pictured in September 2019. He was named Tuesday as a witness in records in the cases against GOP Chair Ben Paris and former candidate Jestine Iannotti. [ JOE BURBANK/ORLANDO SENTINEL | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Aug. 23, 2022|Updated Aug. 23, 2022

ORLANDO, Fla. — Former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg has been named as a witness in the state’s case against an independent “ghost” candidate who ran for a competitive state Senate seat in 2020 and the Seminole County GOP chairman who aided her candidacy.

Greenberg, who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to sex trafficking and other federal crimes over a year ago, has been listed as a witness against GOP Chair Ben Paris and former candidate Jestine Iannotti, who face criminal charges in connection with the scheme, which has roiled Florida politics during the past two years.

The former tax collector, who resigned from his post after his 2020 arrest, was named as a witness in records posted to the Seminole County Clerk’s website on Tuesday. Greenberg is listed as a Category “C,” witness, which means he isn’t expected to testify at Paris’ and Iannotti’s trials, but has provided information about the case.

The records also indicate that a 119-page transcript of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement interview with Greenberg has been provided to Paris’ and Iannotti’s defense counsel as part of the discovery process. It’s not clear what type of information Greenberg provided to investigators about the vote-siphoning scheme.

Greenberg pleaded guilty in May 2021 to committing six felonies while serving as tax collector, including sex trafficking of a child, identity theft, stalking, wire fraud and conspiracy to bribe a public official. He is scheduled for sentencing in December and faces a minimum sentence of 12 years in federal prison.

Iannotti was one of three independent candidates who ran for competitive state Senate seats in 2020. Though they did not campaign for the seats, they were promoted as progressives in an advertisement blitz paid for by a group linked to consultants working closely with Florida Power & Light.

In one of the other races, former state Sen. Frank Artiles is accused of bribing a friend with the same last name as the Democratic candidate to run. The candidate has pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against Artiles, who has pleaded not guilty, at his trial in Miami next month.

Paris, who is facing a misdemeanor charge, is scheduled to stand for trial next week. He is accused of contributing to Iannotti’s candidacy in his cousin’s name. Iannotti faces a felony charge and five misdemeanors.

Political consultant Eric Foglesong, who also aided Iannotti’s candidacy, faces three felonies and two misdemeanors. All three have pleaded not guilty.

As part of its investigation, the FDLE has sent hundreds of records to the state attorney’s office, which have been turned over to Iannotti’s and Paris’ defense attorneys, including text messages, bank records for Iannotti, PayPal transaction logs and transcripts of sworn interviews with Paris’ cousin and an Orlando man listed as a contributor on Iannotti’s financial reports who said he never gave money to her campaign.

But the Seminole-Brevard state attorney’s office has declined to release those records, which typically become public when they are given to the defense.

Because the same records were entered into discovery for all three defendants and not all of them have received them, the office must withhold the documents, Chief Assistant State Attorney Stacey Straub Salmons wrote in an email last month.

Foglesong, who faces five charges, including three felonies, has yet to hire a lawyer and has not requested discovery. During his arraignment earlier this month, he confirmed to the judge he intends to hire a private attorney.

By Annie Martin, Orlando Sentinel