In response to the reporting on that probe in March, the congressman said his family had been cooperating with an FBI investigation of people trying use the investigation of his alleged conduct to extort his father. His father, Matt Gaetz said, had even been wearing a wire for investigators.
The Justice Department indictment names only Alford, identifying Don Gaetz and others by their initials or short descriptors. But people familiar with the matter confirmed the case and said those referred to in it are the same individuals who have long been publicly tied to the effort to get money from the elder Gaetz.
“Don came forward with credible information that he was being extorted. He brought that information to the FBI’s attention. And it is clear today that based upon that credible information, after careful consideration, charges were brought against at least one individual responsible for this fraud scheme,” said Jeffrey Neiman, Don Gaetz’s lawyer.
Matt Gaetz, who is known for his fierce allegiance to former president Donald Trump, had been under Justice Department investigation for months before Alford and another man allegedly approached his father this year, people familiar with the matter have said.
The men, people familiar with the matter have said, had no apparent connection to the sex-crimes investigation — other than having somehow learned about it before it was publicly reported.
The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing investigation.
Though the investigation into Matt Gaetz has stretched for months, the congressman has not been charged with any crimes, and he has consistently denied wrongdoing.
According to the indictment and people familiar with the matter, Alford and another man, Bob Kent, got in touch with Don Gaetz, referencing the investigation into his son and asking to discuss their effort to locate Robert A. Levinson — the longest-held American hostage in Iran, whose family has said they were told he is dead.
The men wanted $25 million to fund a bid to rescue Levinson as part of an effort they called “Project Homecoming.” Alford, according to the indictment, “falsely represented” that his team had been assured by President Biden that he would “strongly consider” a pardon — or a direction to the Justice Department to end any investigations involving Matt Gaetz — if the rescue effort was successful.
At Alford’s behest, according to the indictment, Don Gaetz met with an attorney to discuss how the money could be transferred to a trust account of his firm. People familiar with the matter have said the attorney is David McGee, a former federal prosecutor in Florida now at the firm Beggs & Lane who has long represented the Levinson family.
The indictment alleges that Alford texted Don Gaetz after that meeting to say he could secure Levinson’s release for a “significantly lower amount.” According to the indictment, he also promised to take Don Gaetz “by the hand” to see the president, and said he could “guarantee” that Matt Gaetz would not go to prison if Don Gaetz gave him money.
Neither McGee nor Kent were charged with any crimes. McGee declined to comment, and Kent could not be reached.
Harlan Hill, a spokesman for Matt Gaetz, said in an email: “Five months ago today Rep. Gaetz asserted — after baseless allegations about him — that he was the victim of an extortion attempt. One of the men involved in that attempt, Stephen Alford, was today indicted. But Alford wasn’t acting alone.”
Hill said that McGee and Kent “must now also face justice,” and asserted that the eventual release of recordings made while Don Gaetz was wearing a wire for the FBI “will further exculpate Rep. Gaetz and implicate those with long-standing links to the federal government.”
Efforts to identify an attorney for Alford were not immediately successful. In addition to the wire fraud charge, prosecutors alleged Alford tried to prevent the government from searching and seizing an iPhone during the investigation.
According to court records and local media reports, Alford has previously been convicted in local and federal fraud cases and spent significant time in prison.