REPRESENTATIVE Matt Gaetz, a Republican of Florida, is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her travel, according to reports.
Investigators are examining whether Gaetz, 38, who was an ally to former President Donald Trump, violated sex trafficking laws, The New York Times reported.
According to the report, a number of federal statues make it illegal to induce someone under the age of 18 to travel across state lines in order to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value.
The Times, citing people briefed on the matter, said that the investigation into Gaetz’s possible actions was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William Barr.
Due to Gaetz’s national profile, senior Justice Department officials were reportedly notified of the investigation.
Such cases are regularly prosecuted by the Justice Department and can result in severe sentences.
No charges have been brought against Gaetz, and it was not reported how the representative met the girl, who is believed to have been 17 at the time of the encounter, around two years ago.
Speaking to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Tuesday evening, Gaetz denied the allegations, claiming that his family was being extorted by an ex-DOJ official.
In a statement released on Twitter, Gaetz said: “Over the past several weeks my family and I have been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name.
“We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter and my father has even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals.
“The planted leak to the New York Times tonight was intended to thwart that investigation.
“No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation.
“I demand the DOJ immediately release the tapes, made at their direction, which implicate their former colleague in crimes against me based on false allegations.”
Gaetz told reporters earlier in the day that his lawyers had been in touch with the Justice Department.
He added that his lawyers had been told that he was the subject, not the target, of an investigation.
Gaetz said: “I only know that it has to do with women,” adding, “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”
Following the Times report, Gaetz said in a phone interview with Axios: “The allegations against me are as searing as they are false. I believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know when I was a single guy.”
The representative added that the specifics of the allegations are “unclear,” and that he has been told “very little.”
He said that the allegations against him are “rooted in an extortion effort against my family for $25 million… in exchange for making this case go away.”
Asked what the charges could relate to, Gaetz said: “I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I’ve dated. You know, I’ve paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner. I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not.”
Last year, a political ally of Gaetz, Joel Greenberg, a local official in Florida, was indicted on an array of charges, which included sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex.
Sources said that the examination of Gaetz is part of a boarder investigation into Greenberg, who has resigned from his role as a tax collector in Seminole County.
A photograph on Twitter from 2019 shows Greenberg visiting the White House with Gaetz.
Greenberg pleaded not guilty last year but was sent to jail this month for violating the terms of his bail.
Earlier Tuesday, it was reported that Gaetz is considering retiring from Congress to take up a job with Newsmax.
The representative was elected to the House in 2016, the same year Trump was elected to the White House.
Gaetz has gained nationwide attention in the past, having appeared in a number of television interviews supporting Trump.
He also proposed to his girlfriend, Ginger Luckey, at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on December 30.
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Galban reportedly came to the United States from Cuba and was 12 when they met.
At the time, Gaetz was dating Galban’s sister.