Stephen Alford Indicted for Alleged Extortion Scheme Against Matt Gaetz

A Florida businessman and convicted fraudster who allegedly attempted to extort $25 million from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and his father has been indicted by a federal grand jury.

Stephen Alford, 62, appeared in court on Tuesday after being arrested and charged with wire fraud and the attempted prevention of seizure of an electronic device, according to a release from the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Although the DOJ release did not specifically name Gaetz, the congressman has alleged that Alford was part of a plot that offered to secure him a presidential pardon in exchange for $25 million earlier this year.

Matt Gaetz Stephen Alford Extortion Pardon Indictment
Stephen Alford was arrested on Tuesday after allegedly offering to secure a presidential pardon for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) in exchange for $25 million. Gaetz is pictured during news conference in Washington, D.C. on July 27, 2021. Drew Angerer/Getty

The alleged extortion plot was launched around the same time that Gaetz was named as the focus of a federal sex trafficking investigation involving a 17-year-old girl. Gaetz has denied the allegations and no charges have been filed against him.

As the sex trafficking allegations emerged, Gaetz said that he and his father, former Florida state Senator Don Gaetz, were targeted for extortion by Alford and Robert Kent, a former Air Force intelligence officer.

The men allegedly asked the elder Gaetz for $25 million to secure the release of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA in 2007 and was held hostage for many years.

Although the U.S. government and his family concluded that he had was dead in March 2020, Alford allegedly claimed that Levinson was still alive and that his safe repatriation could secure a pardon for the congressman should he be charged with federal crimes.

The grand jury's unsealed indictment alleges that Alford met with a person identified as "D.G."—presumably Don Gaetz—to discuss the plan, which he called "Project Homecoming" in a letter. The alleged extortion attempt took place between March 17 and April 7.

Alford allegedly told D.G. that his "team has been assured by the President" that he would either "strongly consider" a presidential pardon or "instruct the Department of Justice to terminate any and all investigations involving" D.G.'s family member.

Kent denied that he was part of an extortion attempt in an interview with the New York Times, insisting that the Levinson rescue project had nothing to do with the congressman being under investigation.

"Alford was indicted today," Matt Gaetz tweeted on Tuesday, alongside a video clip about the alleged extortion taken from his Firebrand podcast. "Those he was working with to extort me on a pile of lies should be next."

Alford was indicted today. Those he was working with to extort me on a pile of lies should be next.

— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) August 31, 2021

The DOJ said that Alford was in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service following his court hearing. He could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Newsweek reached out to the office of Gaetz for comment.