Feds are investigating whether Matt Gaetz discussed running a sham candidate in Florida Senate elections to deprive a political rival of votes, report says

ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 27: Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks with fans during the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hyatt Regency Orlando on Saturday, Feb 27, 2021 in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Rep. Matt Gaetz.

  • Feds are investigating if Rep. Gaetz discussed running a fake candidate in a 2020 state race, NYT reports.
  • The race’s GOP candidate Jason Brodeur, a Gaetz ally, ultimately won the election.
  • Funding so-called “ghost candidates” could be considered a violation of campaign-finance laws.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Federal prosecutors investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz over sex-trafficking allegations are also considering whether he talked about running a fake candidate in a Florida Senate election to skew the results, The New York Times reported.

In November, the GOP candidate Jason Brodeur, an associate of Gaetz, beat the Democratic candidate Patricia Sigman to win a seat in the state Senate.

The Times reported that investigators were told about a conversation in which Gaetz and Chris Dorworth, a prominent Florida lobbyist, discussed running a fake third candidate to siphon votes off Sigman and boost Brodeur’s chances of winning.

A third-party candidate, Jestine Ianotti, did run in the race, and Brodeur ultimately beat Sigman by more than 7,000 votes – more votes than what Ianotti got.

The Times’ sources noted that this line of inquiry was in its early stages. Insider has contacted Gaetz’s office for comment.

Matt Gaetz
Gaetz seen in Washington, DC, on June 10, 2020.

Dorworth told the Times that he did not recall such a conversation with Gaetz and that he had never met Ianotti.

“I never met the woman who did run,” Dorworth told the Times. “Never spoke to her, communicated by any written device, gave her any money or anything else.”

Getting a so-called “ghost candidate” to run in a race to pry votes from other candidates is not illegal, but paying such candidates to run could be considered a violation of campaign-finance laws, the Times reported.

The Justice Department is currently investigating whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her travel, which could be a violation of sex-trafficking laws. Gaetz has denied breaking any laws.

That investigation is part of a larger one that centers on Joel Greenberg, a tax collector from Florida and an associate of Gaetz.

Greenberg has been indicted on 33 counts, including one charging him with carrying out the sex trafficking of a minor between the ages of 14 and 17. His lawyers said on Thursday he is likely to accept a plea deal.

Two of Gaetz’s aides have quit amid reports of the probe, and several politicians have called on him to resign.

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