On Tuesday, a fraud convict named Stephen Alford was indicted by federal prosecutors in Florida on charges of wire fraud and destruction of property subject to a seizure warrant — charges related to an apparent plot to extort $25 million from Matt Gaetz’s father, Don Gaetz, in exchange for securing a presidential pardon for the representative facing an investigation for allegedly sex-trafficking a teenager.
The indictment appears to confirm a wild twist in the legal troubles of the attention-seeking Republican representing the Florida panhandle. When reports first emerged in March of the federal inquiry determining whether or not Gaetz transported a minor across state lines for sex, he appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight to deny the accusations and explain the situation. In a segment that Carlson called “one of the strangest interviews I’ve ever conducted,” Gaetz said that the Fox News host had actually met a woman involved. “You and I went to dinner about two years ago,” he said, to Carlson’s dismay. “Your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine. You’ll remember her.” (Gaetz also mentioned offhand that Carlson had previously been “falsely accused of a terrible sex act,” without mentioning that the allegation was baseless.)
In the TV hit from PR hell, Gaetz added that his family was wrapped up in an extortion attempt “involving a former Justice Department official.” He explained that on March 16, his father got a text demanding $25 million in exchange for “making horrible sex-trafficking allegations against me go away.” His father then went “to the local FBI,” where agents asked him to wear a wire. Gaetz then demanded that the FBI and DOJ release the tapes his father recorded of the extortion plot — audio that would “prove my innocence.”
The indictment announced on Tuesday at least confirms the extortion claims: Alford told Don Gaetz he could “guarantee” that his son would receive a pardon for an act of alleged sex-trafficking if his father paid $25 million to fund a long-shot scheme to rescue Robert Levinson, an ex-FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007 and is presumed dead. Alford, who has been convicted of federal fraud charges and faced a state fraud case in 2015, eventually lowered the sum to $15.5 million; he appeared in federal court on Tuesday, and is now in the custody of U.S. Marshals. Gaetz’s father, Don, is the former Florida Senate president and founded a company that was at one point the largest end-of-life health-care provider in the country. (That company, VITAS Healthcare, also faced a fraud lawsuit, in which Don Gaetz denied any wrongdoing.)
Though federal prosecutors confirmed Gaetz’s extortion claims, he still remains under federal investigation for the alleged act of sex-trafficking, which would have occurred while he was in Congress.