Documents Detail Alleged ‘Hostage Release’ Scheme to Extort Gaetz

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Tracy Connor, Roger Sollenberger, Adam Rawnsley
·8 min read
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Samuel Corum/Getty
Samuel Corum/Getty

The scandal swirling around Rep. Matt Gaetz took a stunning turn Wednesday with the news that a former Air Force intelligence official and a Florida lawyer tried to get the congressman’s dad to cough up $25 million that would be used to free American Bob Levinson from Iranian custody—and somehow release Gaetz from a federal sex-crimes investigation.

And if that wasn’t enough, here’s one more strange fact: Levinson was declared dead last year.

The Washington Examiner obtained a document that was allegedly presented to Don Gaetz by the ex-military official, Bob Kent, that laid out the purported scheme. The site also obtained an email sent to Don Gaetz’s lawyer by federal prosecutors that suggests they were looking into whether a crime was under way.

The document dubbed “Project Homecoming” stipulated that Gaetz would deposit money for Levinson’s ransom in an account connected to the firm of Florida lawyer David McGee, who has represented the Levinson family for years. Also named in the scheme: Stephen Alford, a convicted fraudster who McGee has represented—both in court and in business matters.

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McGee told The Daily Beast on Tuesday night, before the documents came to light, that claims of extortion were bogus and that Gaetz was trying to deflect from his own legal troubles. McGee did not respond to calls on Wednesday and Kent could not be reached for comment.

The bizarre chain of events began unraveling on Tuesday night with a report in The New York Times that federal prosecutors were investigating whether Gaetz (R-FL) had a relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel—which could amount to sex trafficking.

Prosecutors did not confirm or deny the Times report, but the Washington Post also reported that there is, indeed, a federal investigation of former President Donald Trump’s brash ally under way.

Gaetz quickly hit back, denying sexual contact with anyone underage, and saying cryptically that he was the target of a plot to extort $25 million from his family. In an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox show on Tuesday night, Gaetz named McGee as one of the parties in the scheme.

Then on Wednesday afternoon, Don Gaetz—Matt’s father and a former Florida state senator worth hundreds of millions of dollars—told Politico that he wore a wire to a meeting with McGee. The elder Gaetz also said he was supposed to wear one to an upcoming meeting with another person involved in the scheme, the fraudster Stephen Alford.

The wild details of the scheme did not emerge until later Wednesday when Don Gaetz released the documents to the Examiner.

The elder Gaetz said that he got a text message on March 16 from Kent, who previously made headlines for a claim that he put together a thwarted mission to rescue Levinson, a retired FBI agent, from Iran in 2018.

“I would like to talk with you immediately about the current federal investigation, and the indictment that is about to filed against your son,” the message read.

“I have a plan that can make his future legal and political problems go away.”

Trump Says He ‘Won’t Accept’ That Ex-FBI Agent Robert Levinson Died in Iran, Despite Family’s Statement

The message went on to say that Kent had located Levinson in Iran and had two proof-of-life videos. It was a remarkable statement. Levinson’s family last May said they believed him to be dead, ending years of speculation. Nevertheless, the message said that if Don Gaetz would help secure Levinson’s release, Matt Gaetz would get credit for that—and a presidential pardon.

The next day, according to Don Gaetz, he met with Kent and Alford and was given the “Project Homecoming” document, which opened with a description of the supposed FBI investigation of Matt Gaetz, referencing alleged photographs of the congressman and an unnamed election official in a “sexual orgy with underage prostitutes.”

The three-page letter, according to the Examiner, went on to say—with no corroboration—that a grand jury had been impaneled to hear evidence against Gaetz and others. But, it said, there was a way out.

“In exchange for funds being arranged, and upon the release of Robert Levinson, Congressman Gaetz shall be given credit for facilitating the release of Mr. Levinson. Congressman Gaetz shall also be on the plane that returns Mr. Levinson to freedom, and shall be the person to “reunited” Mr. Levinson with his family and bring Mr. Levinson back to the United States.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Christine Levinson, wife of Robert Levinson, watches as her son Daniel Levinson displays his father's picture to journalists in 2007. </p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Reuters</div>

Christine Levinson, wife of Robert Levinson, watches as her son Daniel Levinson displays his father's picture to journalists in 2007.

Reuters

The letter added that “the team that delivers Mr. Levinson to the President of The United States shall strongly advocate that President Biden issue a Presidential Pardon, or instruct the Department of Justice to terminate any and all investigations involving Congressman Gaetz.”

Gaetz was suspicious and contacted the FBI. An email obtained by the Examiner appears to confirm that he helping the feds determine what Kent, McGee and Alford were up to.

On March 25, lawyer Matt Neiman wrote to Florida prosecutors: “My client, Don Gaetz, was approached by two individuals to make a sizable payment in what I would call a scheme to defraud... The FBI is now asking Don to voluntarily and proactively assist in their investigation, which Don is willing to do. Please confirm that your Office and the FBI would like Don’s assistance in this matter and that he will be working at the Government’s request.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Goldberg responded: “I can confirm that your client is working with my office as well as the FBI at the government’s request in order to determine if a federal crime has been committed. This has been discussed with, and approved by, the FBI as well as the leadership of my office and components of Main Justice.”

Matt Gaetz has claimed that details of the federal investigation into him was leaked by someone to throw the probe of the Levinson scheme off course.

It’s not clear if that’s the case. Nor is it clear why or how McGee, Alford, and Kent would have details of an investigation into Gaetz’s sex life or if any of the scenarios they outlined in “Project Homecoming” are based in fact. It’s also unclear if the Levinson family had any clue about the ransom scheme.

McGee—who works at the private Florida firm Beggs and Lane—has represented the Levinson family for 14 years. He also has a tangled history with Alford.

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The two are connected through at least four of Alford’s old companies, where McGee’s firm served as an agent: Alford Family Holdings LLC; Alford Family Holdings II and III LLC; and International Soccer Institute LLC. Documents filed with the Florida secretary of state show that Beggs and Lane is the registered agent on the companies, which were created between 2004 and 2006, and are currently inactive. Another Beggs and Lane attorney is listed as the agent for an Alabama real estate company called Alford Properties, formed in 2019.

McGee also represented Alford in a 2005 federal criminal case in which Alford was convicted for defrauding the U.S. Air Force in a land-swap scheme. The fraud scheme was ongoing when Alford and McGee’s firm registered the three holding companies. The businesses were dissolved in the months following Alford’s sentencing.

Alford has a prolific criminal history. In the 2000s he was convicted in Florida on separate charges of fraud and grand theft in excess of $100,000, and in 2015 was arrested for a $6 million fraud and extortion scheme. State prosecutors added charges to that case in 2016, and he was sentenced to five years in prison the following year. In March 2019, he was released on 10 years probation, according to records with the Florida Department of Corrections.

Bob Kent and McGee’s paths appear to have first crossed several years ago when the Air Force veteran set his sights on finding Levinson—who disappeared in 2007 while working in Iran, resurfaced in video and photos three years later, and then completely vanished.

According to Newsweek, Kent, who had been working for corporate clients in the Middle East after leaving the military, put together pledges totaling $250,000 for him to obtain a proof-of-life video of Levinson and then mount a rescue mission. He claims that the U.S. government stood in the way and it never got off the ground.

A year ago, Levinson’s family said they believed he is dead.

“We recently received information from U.S. officials that has led both them and us to conclude that our wonderful husband and father died while in Iranian custody,” a statement from the family read. “We don't know when or how he died, only that it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Among the many questions that now remain unanswered is why the family’s lawyer was then involved in discussions of a possible rescue plan as recently as this month.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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