Joel Greenberg consultant found guilty in federal bribery trial

ORLANDO, Fla. — Michael Shirley, a longtime consultant to Joel Greenberg accused of a bribery-and-kickback scheme, was found guilty of six federal charges on Thursday, concluding a trial that delved into the corruption that defined Greenberg’s tenure as Seminole County’s tax collector.

A jury found Shirley guilty on every count he faced, including a charge of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and five counts of honest services fraud. According to federal guidelines, he faces up to 20 years in prison at sentencing, which was set for Oct. 31.

Shirley had his head down but showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

After the jury was released from service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office asked that Shirley be held in custody, citing a perceived threat by Shirley and one of his attorneys against Chauncey Bratt, a federal prosecutor, amid an argument in the empty courtroom during a break in the proceedings earlier in the day.

Presnell disagreed and allowed Shirley to remain free until sentencing.

Shirley’s trial began Monday. He was accused of participating in a bribery and kickback scheme with former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, which prosecutors say netted Shirley up to $466,625 for his company, Praetorian Integrated Services, through faked invoices for goods and services at inflated prices.

Greenberg hired Praetorian almost immediately after taking office in 2017. During Shirley’s trial, prosecutors sought to portray the company’s work as a mystery to its own and the tax office’s employees — and a known sham to one of Greenberg’s closest confidantes.

Sandra Sumner, who was a senior accountant and later chief financial officer for the Tax Collector’s Office, testified she quickly noticed expensive invoices to Praetorian in oddly round numbers.

“It seemed pretty high to me, as an accountant,” she said.

Sumner said she wasn’t alone in her suspicions. Once, when Shirley waved at Sumner and other accounting staff, Sumner said a colleague remarked, “That ‘hello’ cost us $4,000.”

Two women who briefly worked for Praetorian testified that they did not have much work to do in the weeks they worked for Shirley and were unaware of what exactly he did for Greenberg’s office.

The prosecution’s key witness was Joseph Ellicott, who described himself as having been Greenberg’s best friend. The former radio show host known as “Big Joe” pleaded guilty to passing a bribe from Shirley to Greenberg, an episode Ellicott recounted Tuesday.

Ellicott testified he went to Shirley’s office to pick up $6,000 for Greenberg – who needed the money to pay off credit card debt – but was surprised when Shirley presented him with a contract for the purchase of a 10% stake in Ellicott’s Maitland small business, Uncle Joe’s Coins, Currency & Collectibles.

He testified he was taken aback, but Shirley assured him the contract was “fake,” adding, “… In case somebody asks… I need deniability.”

Shirley’s defense team sought to put Ellicott and Greenberg’s credibility on trial, arguing the two — who are both now serving prison time on serious criminal allegations of their own — had an incentive to implicate Shirley in order to please federal prosecutors.

Defense attorney Warren Lindsey on Wednesday grilled Ellicott about an allegation that he repeatedly had sex with a 17-year-old girl, with Ellicott relying on his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid answering any of those questions.

And another attorney for Shirley, Ashley Parker, told jurors the U.S. Secret Service found in Greenberg’s car a flash drive with dozens of child pornography images, which he intended to use to frame his office’s in-house counsel — his former uncle, Richard Sierra.

Shirley’s defense rested without calling any witnesses. Despite having been listed as a potential witness by both sides and transported to the Orange County jail for the trial, Greenberg was not called to testify.

Ellicott was never charged sex trafficking — due in part to him implicating Shirley in the bribery scheme, Lindsey suggested. Ellicott was sentenced to 15 months in prison for his role in that scheme.

Greenberg was sentenced to an 11-year federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to several crimes, including sex-trafficking a teenager, stalking a political rival, stealing identities and using public money to pay for sex and cryptocurrency.

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