Key witness had sex with minor, defense attorneys allege in trial of Joel Greenberg's former consultant


ORLANDO, Fla. — After Seminole County’s tax collector Joel Greenberg finished having sex with an underage girl in a high-rise hotel room, he called his friend Joe Ellicott and invited him upstairs to also engage in illicit activity with the teenager, a defense attorney alleged in federal court Monday.

Greenberg then paid the girl on behalf of Ellicott, and Ellicott offered the teen illegal drugs, including Ecstasy, before also having sex with her, said attorney Warren Lindsey at the start of the criminal trial for his client, Michael Christopher Shirley.

Now Ellicott — a former radio host known as “Big Joe” — is one of the main witnesses for federal prosecutors in their case against Shirley. He was sentenced last October to 15 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to taking part in a bribery scheme with Shirley.

But Lindsey questioned whether Ellicott can be a credible witness as attorneys and U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell prepared to select a jury in the federal case against Shirley. The resident of Austin, Texas, faces charges that he paid bribes and received kickbacks worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in return for getting favorable treatment from Greenberg as tax collector.

As part of his plea agreement, Ellicott is required to provide evidence and testify on behalf of federal prosecutors in regard to criminal cases. Greenberg — who is currently serving an 11-year federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to using taxpayer funds to have sex with a minor — also is required to cooperate with federal prosecutors as part of his plea deal.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Daniels said that she doesn’t “anticipate calling Joel Greenberg” to testify in Shirley’s trial.

But she added that Ellicott may plead the Fifth Amendment when questioned by defense attorneys, referring to the Constitutional amendment that gives someone the right to remain silent and not incriminate themselves.

Lindsey shot back, telling Presnell that the jury should be made aware of Ellicott’s alleged illegal conduct in that hotel and the fact that he was never charged with sex trafficking of a minor.

“That is a huge, huge area for the jury to consider,” Lindsey said. “He (Ellicott) was given a good deal. … And he has extreme motivation to please the government.”

An angry Presnell then asked Daniels why he wasn’t informed of the allegations and that Ellicott may invoke the Fifth on the witness stand. He called it “the elephant in the courtroom.”

“Here is the sex with the minor,” Presnell said. “This is news to me. … I’m dealing with a problem here; a potential problem. …… Why is this happening on the morning of the trial?”

But Daniels said she wasn’t made aware that Ellicott may plead the Fifth until last Friday when called by one of his attorneys.

“This is a case about corruption,” she said, in saying the accusations of sex with a minor are unrelated to the Shirley case.

Presnell then ordered U.S. Marshal’s Service to bring Ellicott — who is currently imprisoned at the Seminole County jail in preparation for the Shirley trial — to appear in his courtroom at 8 a.m. Tuesday with his attorney.

Presnell would then likely decide whether federal prosecutors can call Ellicott as a witness if he is going to invoke the Fifth Amendment.

It’s also unclear why Ellicott was never charged by federal prosecutors for sex trafficking of a minor. Or whether he can be charged at a later date.

Ellicott’s attorneys did not return calls for comment.

Shirley is a former Republican campaign consultant whose company, Praetorian Integrated Services, was hired by the Seminole tax collector’s office under Greenberg for consulting services on its budget, strategic planning and providing advice on new technology.

Federal prosecutors charged Shirley received as much as $466,625 from his scheme with Greenberg’s office. According to court records and a grand jury indictment, Shirley and his company submitted fake invoices for goods and services at inflated prices.

As part of the scheme, according to the indictment, Shirley withdrew cash from a Central Florida bank, then gave the money to a “co-conspirator” described as Ellicott, who would then turn it over to Greenberg.

In all, Greenberg doled out nearly $678,000 to Praetorian for various services.

After the morning discussion, as many as 56 potential jurors were ushered into the courtroom and answered questions from Presnell and attorneys regarding whether they can make an impartial decision on the case.

Several said they had read in the newspaper or seen on television news coverage of the cases surrounding Greenberg and his associates. One woman who works as a tattoo artist said she has already formed an opinion regarding Greenberg and his associates.

“Anything related to any of those people is pretty shady,” she said. Presnell, defense attorneys and prosecutors later agreed to eliminate her from the jury pool.

One man said he was retired and listed “relaxing” as one of his pastimes.

“Well, that’s good. Because this is going to take a while,” Presnell said to the man regarding the trial, expected to last about a week.

Court testimony continues Tuesday at the federal criminal courthouse in downtown Orlando.

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