Florida man Stephen Alford, linked to alleged Gaetz plot, charged in $25 million scheme
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) walks out of the committee room during a hearing with the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information System in the Rayburn House Office Building on May 14, 2021 in Washington, DC.
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A man reportedly at the center of an alleged extortion plot involving Rep. Matt Gaetz and his family has been charged with engaging in a scheme to defraud a victim out of $25 million, in part by falsely promising he could secure a presidential pardon.
A grand jury charged Florida resident Stephen Alford, 62, with wire fraud in connection with the pardon scheme, carried out between March 16 and April 7, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
Alford was also charged with attempting to stop the seizure of his iPhone by the government, said the grand jury indictment, which was signed by a U.S. magistrate judge on Aug. 18.
Alford was arrested earlier Tuesday and made his initial appearance in federal court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida said in a press release. He faces up to 25 years imprisonment on the charged crimes, according to the prosecutors’ office.
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Gaetz, R-Fla., a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, is being investigated by the Department of Justice about whether the 39-year-old congressman had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, The New York Times reported in March.
Gaetz, at the time that report came out, had linked that DOJ probe with the alleged $25 million “organized criminal extortion” scheme against him and his father, Don Gaetz.
Gaetz has denied all wrongdoing. He has not been charged with a crime.
A Times report from April 1, which described Alford as a real estate agent with a prior fraud conviction, said that he and a former Air Force intelligence officer named Robert Kent approached Don Gaetz about providing funding for an attempt to rescue an American hostage in Iran.
They reportedly told Don Gaetz, 73, that securing that hostage, Robert Levinson, could help clinch a pardon for his son in case he was charged with federal crimes.
Don Gaetz then hired a lawyer and contacted the FBI, the Times reported. Kent denied the allegations.
The grand jury indictment did not refer to Matt Gaetz, Don Gaetz, Levinson or Kent by their full names.
Instead, it said that Alford gave “Person A” the phone number of “D.G.” in order to “discuss the purported release of R.L. from captivity in Iran and a purported ‘current federal investigation’ into Family Member A of D.G.”
In a text message, “it was conveyed to D.G. that Person A’s ‘partner will see to it that [Family Member A] receives a Presidential Pardon, thus alleviating all his legal issues,” the indictment alleged.
Alford then wrote a letter, titled “Project Homecoming,” which made claims about an “‘investigation by the FBI for various public corruption and public integrity issues’ related to Family Member A,” as well as a “Presidential Pardon” and the request for $25 million to “‘immediately fund the release’ of R.L.,” according to the indictment.
The letter allegedly instructed that the money was to be “deposited into a trust account of Law Firm A.”
Alford’s letter also falsely asserted that his “‘team has been assured by the President’ that he will ‘strongly consider’ a ‘Presidential Pardon,'” or tell the Justice Department to quash any probe of “Family Member A” if R.L. is released from captivity, the indictment said.
Alford also falsely told D.G., “I will assure you that [Family Member A] will get off his problems” and claimed he could “guarantee” that that family member “would not go to prison.”