Gaetz family extortion attempt: Stephen Alford’s sentencing gets postponed for fifth time
PENSACOLA — Sentencing for Stephen Alford, an oft-convicted felon facing up to 20 years in federal prison for attempting to extort millions from the politically powerful family of Congressman Matt Gaetz, has been pushed back to Aug. 22.
Alford was arrested in August 2021 and charged with wire fraud and attempting to prevent seizure of an electronic device. He pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud on Nov. 21 of last year.
He was originally scheduled for sentencing Feb. 16. The date has been pushed back five times, most recently from June 1 to July 13 and then again to the August date.
Charging documents state Alford "falsely reported" to Don Gaetz, a former Florida Senate president and father of Matt Gaetz, that he could arrange a presidential pardon for the congressman in exchange for $25 million that he would use to free a former CIA agent held hostage by the Iranian government.
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"He would get that pardon" the congressman might need to avoid being federally indicted on sex trafficking charges, charging documents said.
Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, has been under federal investigation for more than a year based on allegations he had sex with a 17-year-old girl. Gaetz is also reportedly being looked at for obstruction of justice and having dealings with other women who received drugs and/or money in violation of prostitution and sex trafficking laws.
Joel Greenberg, the former Seminole County tax collector and Gaetz associate, has pleaded guilty to sex trafficking in the case and is said to be cooperating with prosecutors in the Gaetz investigation.
No charges have been filed against Gaetz, and he points to Alford's attempt to extort money from his family as evidence the allegations against him are baseless.
Alford's extortion plot actually became public for the first time when Matt Gaetz relayed a version of what had transpired on air to Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
In a March 2021 interview, he claimed Pensacola attorney David McGee and others, including Alford, attempted to extort $25 million from the Gaetz family and that Don Gaetz, a Niceville resident, wore a FBI wire to a meeting to discuss a $5.4 million down payment to allow federal agents to gather evidence about the conspiracy.
Shortly after the airing of the Tucker interview, Alford spoke to the Northwest Florida Daily News to confirm he had approached the Gaetz family. He insisted he had done nothing wrong.
He said he had embarked on a good will effort to rescue Robert Levinson, a CIA operative who disappeared in 2007 and is believed to have been kidnapped by agents of the government of Iran. Although most people presume Levinson to be dead, Alford claimed to have "proof of life" evidence he was alive.
In a quoted text from Alford to Don Gaetz, Alford said that just one chance remained to rescue Levinson and "If you and (Matt Gaetz) are willing to help us privately and clandestinely obtain the release of Robert Levinson I will ensure that (Matt Gaetz) is on the plane that delivers Levinson to his family, thus making him the most sought after public figure in the world."
Charging documents state Alford told Don Gaetz that he had seen grand jury testimony and "talked to one or two witnesses" about the investigation of allegations against Matt Gaetz.
"The FBI would not be this far along and the Justice Department would not have a grand jury involved if some of the facts aren't lining up the way they are lining up. They are strong facts," the statement quoted Alford as telling Don Gaetz. "I don't want to get into a discussion right now about who started this. ... If you fund this initial $5.5 million I give you my word I will sit down and tell you everything."
Alford has served prison time in the past for extortion-related crimes.
In 2009, he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for crimes that included grand theft and money laundering. In that case he and a cohort were caught selling off shares of military-owned parcels on Okaloosa Island ahead of what was to be a massive land swap involving the United States Air Force and a forestry company in rural Taylor County.
In 2017, Alford received a four-year prison sentence for a the criminal use of personal information and communications fraud.
U.S. District Court Judge Casey Rodgers, who will ultimately impose sentence on Alford, presided over his trial and sentencing in the 2009 case.