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Florida Man Famously Accused of ‘Extortion’ by Rep. Matt Gaetz Is Sentenced to Years in Prison

Matt Gaetz & Stephen Alford appear in illustration photos.

Matt Gaetz & Stephen Alford

The Florida man who tried to elicit $25 million from Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-Fla.) family in a pay-for-pardon scheme was sentenced to serve several years in federal prison.

Stephen M. Alford, admitted to wire fraud in November 2021 and was sentenced Monday to 63 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $100 fine by Chief U.S. District Judge Margaret Catharine Rodgers, a George W. Bush appointee.

In March 2021, Gaetz tweeted that he and his family had been victims of “an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million.”

Alford was not prosecuted for extortion, but was indicted for a “scheme to defraud.” Specifically, Alford promised “D.G.” (a reference to Don Gaetz, the congressman’s father), that his family member would receive a presidential pardon if he spent $25 million on a rescue mission called “Project Homecoming.” The rescue would be for former FBI agent Bob Levinson, who is presumed dead after disappearing in Iran in 2007. The dangled prospect of a presidential pardon ostensibly related to the sex-trafficking case to which Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg pleaded guilty in 2021.

The indictment against Alford charged:

“Stephen M. Alford falsely represented in the ‘Project Homecoming’ letter that his ‘team has been assured by the President’ that he will ‘strongly consider’ a ‘Presidential Pardon’ or ‘instruct the Department of Justice to terminate any and all investigations involving [Family Member A]” should the team be able to secure the purported release of R.L. from captivity.”

Alford faced up to 20 years and a $250,000 fine, and pleaded guilty in November 2021.

Alford’s sentencing came after Judge Rodgers conducted a hearing and ruled in Alford’s favor on a prosecutorial error. Alford argued and Rodgers agreed that the government should not have used sentencing guidelines relevant to the actual stealing of $25 million, rather than attempted stealing. In an order, Rodgers wrote, “Intended loss does not fall within the bounds of reasonable interpretation for the term loss,” and sustained Alford’s objection.

The ruling was an important one for Alford, as under the prosecution’s initial categorization, he would have faced a minimum sentencing of 11 years in prison.

[Image of Gaetz via Graeme Jennings/Pool/Getty Images; image of Alford via the Florida Department of Corrections]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos