Alford update: Alleged attempted Gaetz extortionist to be arraigned Friday

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

PENSACOLA — Twice convicted Stephen Alford of Fort Walton Beach will appear in U.S. District Court on Friday for an arraignment hearing on charges he attempted to extort millions of dollars from the family of Florida First District Congressman Matt Gaetz.

An indictment handed down in late August alleges Alford went to Gaetz's father, former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, with an offer to secure a presidential pardon for the congressman in exchange for $25 million, which ostensibly would have been used to buy a CIA operative out of captivity in Iran.

Stephen Alford arrest mug from 2016

Federal authorities say Alford had crafted a letter titled "Project Homecoming" that conveyed purported facts about a federal investigation into "various public corruption and public integrity issues" involving Matt Gaetz.

Related:Where’s Matt Gaetz? Not in his district; ‘He’s everywhere but here’

Where it started:Stephen Alford update: Alleged conspirator in U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz extortion scheme indicted and arrested

Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, has been linked to an investigation that has thus far resulted in former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg pleading guilty to multiple charges, including sex trafficking of a 17-year-old minor.

Although Gaetz hasn't been charged, reports say he is being looked at for possibly engaging in sex trafficking alongside Greenberg, who is often described as his one-time "wingman."

Alford, the indictment states, offered Don Gaetz assurances from the president that he would arrange a pardon or order the Justice Department to halt its investigation of the younger Gaetz in exchange for the $25 million it would take to buy the freedom of Robert Livingston. Livingston disappeared in 2007 in Iraq, and Alford and a group of cohorts have said they believe him to still be alive.

Alford exclusive:Stephen Alford says he was questioned by FBI regarding Matt Gaetz extortion charge

More on the "wingman":Joel Greenberg pleads guilty to sex trafficking, will cooperate in other investigations

It says Alford later communicated with Don Gaetz to say those he was working with to release Livingston had negotiated lower terms, and that Gaetz could assist in the rescue by paying $15.5 million, with $5.5 million up front to be deposited in the account of an unnamed attorney.

Matt Gaetz was the first to say anything about the extortion plan Alford has been accused of hatching.

In an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson conducted shortly after it was revealed he had been linked to the Greenberg investigation, the congressman said his father had worn an FBI wire to thwart the extortion attempt and identified Pensacola attorney David McGee as an Alford co-conspirator.

McGee has not been charged with any crimes. 

Stephen Alford says he was questioned by FBI regarding Matt Gaetz extortion charge

In an April interview with the Northwest Florida Daily News, Alford did not deny approaching the wealthy Gaetz family for money. He said it was thought that if the Gaetz family helped rescue a man missing for 14 years it would garner good will around the country and make the pardoning or dropping of the investigation of Matt Gaetz easier for the public to stomach. 

Federal documents filed ahead of Friday's arraignment, at which Alford will be asked to offer a plea in the case against him, included notice justifying the prosecution's intention to use "a defendant's prior conviction ... for fraud or a comparable conviction" against him.

Another federal investigation:FBI agents raided a Bluewater Bay home, but released no details on the investigation

In March 2006, Alford was convicted of multiple federal charges, including fraud, aiding and abetting, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, making an unlawful campaign contribution and bank fraud.

Alford, who lived in Niceville at the time, and associate David Fleet were convicted of selling the same piece of Air Force property on Okaloosa Island to multiple would-be development investors. They did so, prosecutors said, without first securing a deal to obtain the parcel in exchange for thousands of acres of timberland the Air Force coveted in rural Taylor County. 

He was 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.