U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was at the center of a scandal earlier this year involving allegations of child sex trafficking.
Now, Florida businessman Stephen Alford has pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of wire fraud in connection with an alleged extortion attempt aimed at the GOP lawmaker.
Sentencing hearing scheduled for February
As Breitbart reported, Gaetz furiously denied the claims and chalked it up to an effort to extort his family for $25 million.
Local news outlets reported that Alford had been arrested in August and initially pleaded no guilt to federal charges last month. He reversed course since then and pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud during an appearance in a federal courtroom on Monday.
A sentencing hearing in the case is set for February and he could face up to 20 years behind bars.
This is reportedly the third time in 15 years that Alford is facing federal prison time over alleged schemes to defraud or extort wealthy individuals.
The prior allegations related to fraudulently obtaining forest land to trade with the U.S. Air Force for beachfront properties.
“False and fraudulent pretenses”
A federal indictment in the case involving Gaetz indicated that Alford approached the congressman’s father via text message and in-person meetings with a proposal to take care of the lawmaker’s legal troubles for the sum of $25 million.
Alford allegedly said he would use the funds to secure the release of former FBI agent Robert Levinson from captivity in Iran, though Levinson’s own family suspect he died some time ago.
The businessman also reportedly submitted a letter to the elder Gaetz describing the so-called “Project Homecoming,” later negotiating the cost down to $15.5 million. In addition to getting his son off the hook, Alford reportedly claimed that the Gaetz family would be heralded as heroes when Levinson returned home.
Those claims, the indictment determined, were made under “false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises” for the purpose of defrauding the Gaetz family.
While Alford’s guilty plea does not formally clear Gaetz of the accusations against him, it bolsters his assertion that his family was the target of an organized extortion attempt.