Stephen Alford sentenced to five years in prison for scheme to extort $25M from Gaetz family
PENSACOLA — Niceville resident Stephen Alford will serve 63 months, or just over five years, in federal prison for attempting to extort $25 million from Don Gaetz, a former state Senate president and father of Florida's 1st District Congressman Matt Gaetz.
The sentencing followed an afternoon hearing and came after District Court Judge Casey Rodgers ruled last week that the government had incorrectly attempted to set guidelines for sentencing for stealing $25 million, rather than attempting to steal $25 million.
"Intended loss does not fall within the bounds of reasonable interpretation for the term loss," Rodgers wrote. "Alford's objection to the use of intended loss to determine his offense level under (sentencing guidelines) is sustained."
Had the prosecution's effort to have Alford sentenced under its presumption of intended loss succeeded, he faced a minimum sentence of 11 years and a maximum sentence of 14.
Alford will receive credit for time served and be placed on three years probation at the completion of his term.
Long wait for sentencing:Gaetz family extortion attempt: Stephen Alford’s sentencing gets postponed for fifth time
Alford is being sent to prison for the third time since March 2006 on charges related to his efforts to swindle big money from wealthy individuals or entities.
The plan to extort money from the Gaetz family, spelled out in documents filed with the U.S. District Court, involved Alford and others coming to them with a complicated scheme.
Alford and his team said they could save Matt Gaetz from going to prison for any role he might have played in crimes for which he is being investigated, including sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl. In return, multi-millionaire Don Gaetz would front $25 million that would be used to free a man held for years by agents of the government of Iran.
The plan came to light in March of 2021 when the FBI originally interviewed Don Gaetz about his contact with Alford and another person identified only as "Person A."
Don Gaetz told investigators he had received a text four days prior to the interview from Person A, who requested a meeting to discuss "the current investigation and the indictment that is about to be filed against (Matt Gaetz)."
At the time, news was just beginning to leak that Matt Gaetz was the subject of a criminal investigation. No criminal charges have been filed and Matt Gaetz maintains his innocence.
Joel Greenberg, the former Seminole County tax collector and a Matt Gaetz associate, has reportedly implicated Gaetz in the sex trafficking case. Greenberg pleaded guilty in May of 2021 to numerous crimes as part of a plea deal and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. One of the charges Greenberg pleaded to was that of sex trafficking the same 17-year-old girl to whom Gaetz has reportedly been linked.
"I have a plan that can make his future legal and political problems go away," the document states, quoting the text message Don Gaetz received. "Last summer we located Robert Levinson in Iran and took two proof of life videos, but the U.S. government foiled our rescue attempts."
Levinson is a CIA operative who disappeared in 2007 and is believed by most to be deceased. Alford told Don Gaetz that if he could provide him with a $25 million loan, he and his team could secure the release of Levinson and make Matt Gaetz a hero by doing so.
In the original text, the unidentified person told Don Gaetz that 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."
Also in return for the loan — which the would-be extortionist said would have been paid back from a reward offered for the safe return of Robert Levinson — Alford promised he could secure a pardon from President Joe Biden for Matt Gaetz.
"The team that delivers Mr. Levinson to the president of the United States will strongly advocate that President Biden issue a presidential pardon, or instruct the Department of Justice to terminate any and all investigations involving (Matt Gaetz)," the charging documents said, quoting Alford. "The team has been assured by the president that he will strongly consider such matters because he considers the release of Robert Levinson a matter of national urgency."
Alford even indicated to Gaetz that he could convince Levinson himself to advocate on Matt Gaetz's behalf.
Confronted by FBI agents regarding his discussion with the elder Gaetz, which was captured on a wire worn to the meeting between the two, Alford admitted that he had never received any assurances from the Biden administration regarding a pardon for Matt Gaetz.
"Alford replied that statement was a lie," the court document states. "Alford's fraudulent scheme was thus making materially false promises to obtain millions of dollars from Don Gaetz though Alford knew he couldn't guarantee a pardon for (Matt Gaetz)," the document said.
A look at Stephen Alford's record
Alford has a long and colorful history as a high stakes con man.
In July 2005, he and attorney David Fleet were taken into custody on federal charges stemming from their efforts to broker a massive land swap involving the U.S. Air Force and a forestry company in rural Taylor County.
Alford and Fleet had worked for a couple of years prior to their arrests to secure a deal through which Alford would pay $500 million to buy 545,000 acres of forest land in Taylor County that he would swap with the Air Force for a handful of pristine Gulf front beach parcels the military owned on Okaloosa Island.
Alford was caught selling interest in the same properties to several would-be investors, and he spent about $3 million of the funds he had received on himself and to fund Fleet's campaign for a county judge's seat.
Alford was sentenced in that instance to 10 years in prison for crimes that included wire fraud and money laundering.
He was also convicted in Okaloosa County in 2017 of criminal use of personal information and communications fraud.
"Alford," the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office said following that arrest, "swindled approximately $350,000 from at least one investor by promising lucrative returns for money intended for real estate ventures."
He "misrepresented real estate assets to the investor, and instead, used the money for personal use to include buying expensive jewelry, cars, and renting the luxury condominium at Destin Yacht Club, among other purchases," the Sheriff's Office said.