Does it? It certainly goes a long way toward making Matt Gaetz a more sympathetic figure in what federal investigators now consider an extortion plot. A federal grand jury indicted Stephen Alford for wire fraud, revealed after his arrest yesterday:
Stephen M. Alford, 62, of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, was indicted by a federal grand jury on counts of wire fraud and the attempted prevention of seizure of an electronic device, announced Jason R. Coody, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida. Alford was arrested on August 31, 2021 and made his initial appearance in federal court to face the charges.
The indictment alleges that, between March 16, and April 7, 2021, Alford engaged in a scheme to defraud a victim out of $25 million. As articulated in the indictment, Alford is alleged to have been involved in a scheme to obtain money based upon false promises or guarantees he made to the victim that Alford could deliver a Presidential Pardon for a family member of the victim.
CNBC connected the dots that the Department of Justice left unconnected. They reported last night that the “family member of the victim” was Gaetz, whose father had been the alleged target of the extortion scheme:
A man reportedly at the center of an alleged extortion plot involving Rep. Matt Gaetz and his family has been charged with engaging in a scheme to defraud a victim out of $25 million, in part by falsely promising he could secure a presidential pardon. …
Gaetz, R-Fla., a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, is being investigated by the Department of Justice about whether the 39-year-old congressman had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, The New York Times reported in March.
Gaetz, at the time that report came out, had linked that DOJ probe with the alleged $25 million “organized criminal extortion” scheme against him and his father, Don Gaetz.
Gaetz has denied all wrongdoing. He has not been charged with a crime.
Alford may not have been the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, either. Reuters notes that he gave an interview to a local newspaper in which Alford claimed he wanted the money for a rescue mission of a missing CIA agent:
In an interview with the Northwest Florida Daily News earlier this year, Alford did not deny approaching the wealthy Gaetz family for money. But he said he and associates were seeking to partner with the Gaetzes to rescue Robert Levinson, a CIA operative who disappeared in 2007.
That explanation didn’t fly with the grand jury, it seems. Good luck getting it past a trial jury, too. “I just wanted to ask Gaetz père for 25 million bucks for a good cause, Your Honor!”
Gaetz wasted little time last night in declaring himself exonerated and the sex-trafficking allegations against him “a pile of lies”:
Alford was indicted today. Those he was working with to extort me on a pile of lies should be next. pic.twitter.com/7XGGXINGcR
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) August 31, 2021
This may not explicitly exonerate Gaetz, but it points up lots of problems in a case that already had its fair share. For those who have lost track of this scandal, it started with a former Gaetz crony named Joel Greenberg, whom the DoJ charged in a 33-count indictment on sex trafficking and wire fraud, among other crimes. Greenberg’s attorney hinted publicly that his client had something juicy to say about Gaetz, which got Greenberg a plea deal in May. Attorney Fritz Scheller then declared that Greenberg didn’t have much to say about Gaetz at all, but #YOLO, or something. But even if Greenberg did have something to say about Gaetz, Greenberg’s history of framing a political rival with false allegations of sex crimes wouldn’t make him a particularly valuable witness.
It’s been nearly four months since Greenberg’s plea deal, too. If the FBI and DoJ had something usable on Gaetz, we’d probably have already seen it. Now, with this extortion attempt involving Alford getting a felony charge, it will make it nearly impossible to then try to prosecute Gaetz on anything remotely connected to either Greenberg or Alford. On top of that, any defense attorney would have a field day tearing apart the DoJ over the leaks of the investigation of Gaetz, which led one of his former associates to accuse the media of a “feeding frenzy” of false allegations.
It’s unclear at this time what the DoJ will do with any remaining investigation into Gaetz. At some point, they’ll have to fish or cut bait. Even if you can’t say Gaetz has been exonerated, the whole probe is looking fishier and fishier as time passes and nothing much happens.