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Man sentenced in scheme to defraud Rep. Gaetz’s father of $25 million

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington in July 2021. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

A federal judge on Monday sentenced a Florida businessman to a little over five years in prison for his role in a 2021 plot to defraud the father of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) of $25 million as the congressman found himself under investigation for possible sex crimes.

Stephen M. Alford pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in November. This week, Alford was sentenced to 63 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, according to court documents.

Randall Lockhart, Alford’s public defender, did not immediately respond to a request from The Washington Post for comment. Gaetz has not been charged with any crime.

Florida man charged in connection with overture to Matt Gaetz’s father about the investigation of his son

The scheme was first made public on March 30, 2021, when Gaetz appeared on Fox News hours after the New York Times first reported that the congressman was under investigation. Gaetz claimed the Times’s story was a “planted leak” meant to distract from the real crime — a shakedown of him and his father.

“What is happening is an extortion of me and my family,” Gaetz said.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) addressed new, public allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl on "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on March 30. (Video: The Washington Post)

According to court records, Alford and another man somehow learned that Gaetz was under a Department of Justice probe before the investigation was publicly reported. Don Gaetz — the congressman’s father and a former Florida Senate president — received a text message on March 16, 2021, with a request to discuss the investigation into his son, according to the indictment in Alford’s case.

The Justice Department was investigating Joel Greenberg, a former Seminole County, Fla., tax collector and an associate of Gaetz’s. During that probe, investigators uncovered information that could implicate the congressman, The Post previously reported. A spokesperson for Gaetz did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Tuesday. The congressman has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Last May, Greenberg pleaded guilty to six federal crimes, including trafficking a 17-year-old girl. Greenberg has provided investigators with information about the Republican representative as part of his plea deal, The Post reported.

The sex trafficking investigation that’s zeroing in on Matt Gaetz, explained

The day after receiving the text message, Don Gaetz met with the sender and was provided with a letter outlining the plan, prosecutors said. If the Gaetzes helped fund efforts to locate and rescue Robert A. Levinson — the longest-held American hostage in Iran — President Biden would “strongly consider” pardoning Rep. Gaetz, if necessary, or otherwise direct the Justice Department to halt its investigation of the congressman, court records state.

The plan was deemed “Project Homecoming.”

That same day, Alford met with Don Gaetz to elaborate on the plan and name his price: $25 million, according to court documents.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Alford and his team insisted that Levinson had been recently spotted and that the funds would help bring him back, records state. Over the next few days, Alford promised to get a proof-of-life video for Levinson and turn Rep. Gaetz into “such a hero,” according to prosecutors.

But the plan soon started to crumble. Don Gaetz was interviewed by the FBI about his contact with Alford on March 20, 2021. According to court documents, during his last meeting with Alford, Don Gaetz wore a recording device, capturing the businessman’s promises.

However, when investigators asked Alford in April about the statements he had made, Alford called them “a lie,” and that was grounds to charge him with “making material false promises,” court documents state.