ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida has sailed into a new controversy, claiming money wired to close the sale on a St. Petersburg yacht his fiancée had agreed to buy “went missing.”
According to a spokesperson for the Republican, he and his fiancé Ginger Luckey were “targeted by malicious actors” during the purchase process of a St. Petersburg yacht. Follow-up questions about the transaction and clarification of the statement have not been answered.
About a week after news broke about the investigation into Gaetz’s potential connection to the sex-trafficking case involving former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, the Republican was spotted with Luckey on a 41-foot yacht docked at Pier 4 at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina.
Jon Golly, who owns a yacht in a slip across from the one Gaetz and Luckey boarded, is one of several boat owners on the pier who recall seeing the couple during the boat inspection process known as the survey.
“He was on the phone the whole time while they were doing the survey,” Golly said. “And he stopped and said hi to Nancy and I sitting out in front of our boat. It was definitely him.”
The boat, named Ol Pappy at the time, was listed for $155,000. But about a month after the survey, the deal fell through.
According to the congressman’s spokesperson, Luckey was the buyer of the boat but “Rep. Gaetz and Ms. Luckey were the target of a financial crime” during the transaction.
The statement goes on to say “federal law enforcement is both aware of and actively pursuing” the alleged crime, but there is no mention of which agency is investigating or how much money is missing.
Sydney Erhardt from the FBI National Press and Operations unit said “the FBI can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation and we have no further comment.”
Ol Pappy was well known at the marina for the ornate oil painting-style design on her hull, similar to the label on high-end Pappy Van Winkle’s Bourbon. Witnesses said Ol Pappy was erased and replaced by the name Thirsty in late April around the time the deal was supposed to close.
The port of entry city on the boat was also changed from St. Pete to Niceville, a city in Gaetz’s district. Gaetz went to Niceville High School.
Neither Gaetz’s team nor Luckey have responded to questions about the name change but marina boat owners were surprised to see the cigar-smoking Ol Pappy replaced by Thirsty before the deal was done.
“A little premature without ownership of the boat,” Golly said. “If it was my boat, there’d be trouble. That’s my baby.”
A picture posted May 8 on Luckey’s Twitter page shows her at the wheel of a sailboat under a blue Bimini with St. Petersburg in the background, but it is unknown if that is the craft involved in the failed transaction.
As far as who took the money, Gaetz’s team would only stick to the statement that includes a reference to the couple being “targeted by malicious actors, first domestic and now foreign.”
After the potential connection to the Greenberg case was first reported, Gaetz claimed on Twitter the alleged tie to Greenberg was not true and that he and his family were “victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name.”
Brett Harris, the owner of Edwards Yacht Sales, which brokered the transaction, said the boat was eventually sold to another buyer in a deal that he said closed last Friday.
The now former owner of the craft said he did not want to comment at this time.