ORLANDO, Fla. When federal prosecutors first indicted former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg in mid-2020, it launched a series of other criminal investigations and eventually led to the indictments of half a dozen of his friends and business associates — including a political consultant, a sports radio host, a pair of real estate investors, a federal employee and the owner of a golf company.
The trial of Greenberg’s political adviser, Michael Courtney Shirley, begins Monday in a federal courtroom in downtown Orlando. Shirley is accused of paying bribes and receiving kickbacks worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for receiving favorable treatment from the tax office under Greenberg’s tenure.
It is likely that Greenberg, along with former state legislator and lobbyist Chris Dorworth, tax office employees and his former colleagues serving prison terms, will be called to testify at the week-long trial, according to the U.S. law firm and attorneys. If convicted, Shirley faces up to 20 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
Greenberg is currently serving an 11-year sentence after pleading guilty to several federal felonies — including trafficking a teen, stalking a political rival, stealing identities, and using public money to pay for sex and cryptocurrency.
“Mr. Greenberg’s plea deal with the government requires him to testify if called as a witness,” said Orlando attorney Fritz Scheller, who represents Greenberg. “And he intends to honor it.”
Greenberg’s criminal case also led federal investigators to investigate his former boyfriend, U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Pensacola, in connection with sex trafficking.
This month, the House Ethics Committee relaunched its 2021 investigation into Gaetz, which focused primarily on allegations that the congressman may have engaged in sexual misconduct, illegal drug use, accepted bribes and misused state identification information, according to a CNN report.
This comes after the US Justice Department informed Gaetz last February that it had decided not to press federal charges against him.
Gaetz representatives did not return requests for comment in time. However, he told CNN a week ago that the Congressional investigation “isn’t something I’m worried about. I am focused on work.”
Shirley is a former Republican agent and campaign consultant who worked for Greenberg when his firm, Praetorian Integrated Services, was hired by the tax office in early 2017 to provide advisory services on budgeting, strategic planning and providing advice on new technology.
Federal prosecutors say Shirley received a whopping $466,625 through 2019 from his plan with Greenberg’s office. According to court records and a grand jury indictment, Shirley and company filed false invoices with prices for goods and services that were inflated.
As part of their conspiracy, Shirley withdrew money from a Central Florida bank and then gave the money to a “co-conspirator,” described as Greenberg friend Joseph Ellicott, who would then turn it over to Greenberg, according to court documents.
Shirley — who was arrested nearly a year ago in Austin, Texas, where he lives — faces four counts of fraud and one charge of conspiracy to commit fraud. He has pleaded not guilty.
Shirley was a political consultant and worked on several campaigns in the Central Florida area, including Joe Lopez’s unsuccessful candidacy for Orange County Sheriff in 2018. Lopez was defeated by current Sheriff John Mina, and he later told the Orlando Sentinel that Shirley and Greenberg were secretly working to promote rival candidate Darryl Sheppard into the race.
Two years earlier, Greenberg donated $6,000 to Shirley’s company Praetorian to help him defeat incumbent tax collector Ray Valdes in the Republican primary.
After being elected in November 2016, Greenberg donated nearly $678,000 to Praetorian for various services, including providing shirts and sweaters with the IRS logo for employees to wear.
In 2018, Shirley launched Pinpoint Action, a political consulting firm, in an office building adjacent to a branch of the tax office Greenberg had recently opened on Wekiva Springs Road near Longwood, according to state records. Pinpoint Action disbanded about a year later.
Shirley’s attorneys, Warren Lindsey and Ashley Parker of Maitland, did not respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Ellicott — a former radio host with an on-air swagger — was sentenced to 15 months in prison last October after pleading guilty to participating in the scheme, along with other charges. He will be released in October, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Ellicott is listed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a witness for the prosecution. He was transferred to the Seminole County Jail in April in preparation for trial.
Another longtime Greenberg associate expected to testify for the prosecution is Orlando real estate investor Keith Ingersoll.
Ingersoll pleaded guilty last year to coordinating a scheme with his business partner James Adamczyk that netted an elderly investor millions of dollars and nearly all of his savings.
He was sentenced in February to just over nine years in prison. Adamczyk died of cancer in October 2022. Like Ellicott, Ingersoll was also recently transferred to the Seminole County Jail for Shirley’s trial.
Days after Greenberg was first indicted on June 23, 2020 and resigned as a tax collector, he relaunched a pair of companies, Greenberg Media Group and DG3 Network, which he had dissolved several years earlier, according to state records.
Then, between June and September 2020, Greenberg teamed up with businessman Nabil Dajani, who owned The Perfect Golf Grip, to fraudulently obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in coronavirus aids from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, according to federal prosecutors.
Dajani and a co-conspirator, working with the Small Business Administration, fraudulently helped Greenberg obtain more than $430,000 in loans for his two companies, according to court documents. Greenberg gave one of Dajani’s companies $16,000 for the deal, prosecutors said in the indictment documents.
Dajani pleaded guilty last May to conspiracy, filing a false claim and an unrelated charge of prostitution. He is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on August 9.
Brevard County resident Teresa McIntyre, who was allegedly involved in the scheme, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to defraud the government. She was sentenced to five years probation in February and ordered to pay $587,500 in restitution.
Dorworth is a former state representative and lobbyist for Ballard Partners, and a one-time friend of Greenberg’s. His firm was hired by Greenberg in 2017 at a cost of $6,250 a month to help push for legislation favorable to tax collectors’ offices statewide. He is listed as a defense witness.
Last April, Dorworth filed a civil lawsuit against Greenberg’s family and ex-wife, claiming the group was coordinating an effort to smear his reputation.
Others who may be called to testify include Mike McLean, a former Seminole commissioner who worked as the firm’s chief clerk; and Richard Sierra, Greenberg’s former uncle, who worked as the firm’s in-house attorney. Sierra warned Greenberg in early 2019 that federal authorities were investigating the tax office.
Court proceedings for Monday begin at 9 a.m. at the federal courthouse, 401 W. Central Blvd., in downtown Orlando.