A Florida man allegedly attempted to shake down Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Gaetz’s father, promising a presidential pardon in exchange for $25 million, according to a federal indictment unsealed Tuesday.
Stephen Alford, a 62-year-old resident of Walton Beach, is charged with wire fraud and the attempted prevention of seizure of an electronic device. Alford allegedly told Don Gaetz, a wealthy Florida businessman worth hundreds of millions and the father of the Republican congressman, that he could make an investigation into his son vanish and guarantee Matt Gaetz would serve no jail time. Gaetz is under federal investigation for sex trafficking in connection with an alleged relationship with a 17-year-old girl. He has denied wrongdoing.
According to the indictment, Alford gave Don Gaetz’s cell phone number to an associate, who then conveyed the message about the presidential pardon to Don Gaetz, and the two met multiple times. Alford told Don Gaetz in a letter that his team had “been assured” that then-President Donald Trump would “instruct the Department of Justice to terminate any and all investigations” into Matt Gaetz if Alford and his associates were to receive the $25 million, the Justice Department alleges. Don Gaetz said he wore a wire to at least one meeting with Alford.
Alford later lowered the amount he was demanding from Don Gaetz to $15.5 million, splitting it into $1 million in cash and $4.5 million to be wired into his attorney David McGee’s account, prosecutors say. He also allegedly tried to destroy his iPhone 12 Pro Max while Justice Department agents attempted to search and seize it.
McGee has represented Alford in both court and business matters, though the lawyer was not contacted about the indictment against Alford, according to a source familiar with the investigation. The lawyer had also met with Don Gaetz, though it was before Alford did, the source said.
Alford has previously been convicted of defrauding the U.S. Air Force in a land-swap plot, of fraud and grand theft over $100,000, and he was arrested in 2015 in connection to a $6 million fraud and extortion scheme. He was released on 10 years probation in 2019.
Matt Gaetz has accused another man, Bob Kent, of attempting to extort his father as well, though Kent was not named in the Justice Department’s indictment. According to a source familiar with the investigation, Kent has not been contacted by federal investigators. Kent confirmed and then denied the $25 million shakedown attempt in an April interview. Alford and Kent were planning to use the funds to ransom and repatriate Robert Levinson, according to a document that detailed their scheme, dubbed “Project Homecoming.” Levinson is a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who disappeared in Iran more than 10 years ago and whom experts believe is now deceased. McGee, the attorney, has represented the Levinson family in legal matters.
The extortion allegations first came to light in the wake of the revelation that Gaetz was under federal investigation, and Gaetz said at the time that someone at the Department of Justice had leaked the details of the investigation into him to throw a wrench into the probe of Alford’s alleged scheme.
—Roger Sollenberger contributed reporting.