A Florida businessman pleaded guilty on Monday to participating in an effort to extort $ 25 million from the wealthy father of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) -Profile the federal sex trafficking investigation into which the legislator is confronted.
Stephen Alford, 62, appeared in federal court in Pensacola to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with the convoluted shakedown, which also included the release of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who has disappeared in Iran in 2007.
During the hearing, US trial judge Elizabeth Timothy recommended that Alford’s guilty plea be accepted.
Alford, of Fort Walton Beach, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $ 250,000 upon his conviction, set for February 16 before US District Court Judge Casey Rodgers. Defendants typically get a much lower sentence than the maximum, but Alford could face a heavy prison sentence because he has already been convicted by the federal government of fraud.
After being approached about the alleged pardon agreement earlier this year, Matt Gaetz’s father, Don, went to the FBI. Agents helped Elder Gaetz, a wealthy former head of the Florida State Senate, tape meetings with Alford and others involved in the caper.
Alford reportedly said he could “secure” a pardon for Matt Gaetz, who is the subject of an ongoing investigation into allegations that he and his associates had sex with underage girls and paid women for it. sex through so-called “sugar daddy” online sites. . “How, if anything, Alford hoped to secure a pardon from President Joe Biden for one of former President Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters was never clear. A court filing on Monday said Alford has admitted that he had lied about having such assurances.
In a letter to Don Gaetz, Alford wrote: “The team has been assured by the President that he will seriously consider these issues as he views Robert Levinson’s release as a national emergency. “
However, Alford told FBI agents in April that the statement was “a lie,” the statement of facts submitted in the guilty plea reads.
“Alford’s fraudulent scheme was therefore making false material promises to obtain millions of dollars from GM, although Alford knew he could not ‘guarantee’ forgiveness for the GM family member,” the GM said. communicated.
In a tweet posted ahead of the plea hearing on Monday, Matt Gaetz criticized the Justice Department for not indicting others who allegedly worked with Alford on the project. “Alford was not acting alone. The DOJ makes him take the fall to protect theirs, ”the congressman said.
Matt Gaetz has not been charged in connection with DOJ’s ongoing investigation into his actions, but a former aide – former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg – is cooperating with prosecutors after pleading guilty in May to sex trafficking of a minor.
The lawmaker has denied wrongdoing.