Live Update-Gaetz’s Accused Extorter Confirms, Denies $25 Million Shakedown

Gaetz’s Accused Extorter Confirms, Denies $25 Million Shakedown

Astrid Riecken/Getty

Astrid Riecken/Getty

The man Rep. Matt Gaetz has accused of trying to extort millions from his family—and blamed for recent allegations of sexual improprieties—admitted in a bizarre interview Monday to asking the Florida Republican’s dad to finance an international plot to “rescue” an American citizen widely believed to be dead in Iran.

Air Force veteran and “research consultant” Bob Kent verified to Sirius Radio personality Michael Smerconish that he had approached Gaetz’s deep-pocketed father, former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, last month seeking a $25 million loan. The funds would ransom the release of Robert Levinson, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who disappeared in Iran more than a decade ago. Levinson’s own family believes him to be dead, but Kent has insisted he has evidence Levinson is alive and remains a hostage of the Islamic Republic, though credible experts have dismissed his claims.

Kent said he was aware at the time that Matt Gaetz might have “legal issues” and that he suggested that assisting in the mission would create “good will” toward the congressman. Although Kent didn’t say it outright, those issues seem to be the recently surfaced allegations that the lawmaker paid women for sex—including, possibly, an underage girl—and misused campaign funds.

“Matt Gaetz is in need of good publicity, and I’m in need of $25 million to save Robert Levinson,” Kent told Smerconish.

Kent described a sequence of improbable purported events that he said led him to solicit money from Gaetz’s dad: Namely, that he misinterpreted a “joke” by a federal agent who said the U.S. government would believe Kent’s intel on an Iranian-linked militant’s activities if Kent could track Levinson down. Kent said his team had attempted a rescue of the U.S. operative last July and that he “lost four people” to Iranian forces.

Despite having coupled his request for money with an allusion to the congressman’s alleged improprieties, and despite working on the project with serial Florida fraudster Stephen Alford, Kent maintained he had not sought to extort the Gaetz clan.

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“I never threatened the man—matter of fact, it was the opposite: I told him if he decides not to help us, he’ll never hear from me again,” Kent said of his meeting with Don Gaetz. “I can’t help how it sounds.”

Nevertheless, Kent said Gaetz’s father initially interpreted the overture as a blackmail attempt. But Kent asserted that the local Republican power broker then grew receptive and offered to approach then-President Donald Trump with the materials.

Kent said he insisted he wasn’t interested in the U.S. government’s assistance. He claimed that he received notice a week ago from Levinson family attorney David McGee that Don Gaetz would in fact bankroll his Middle Eastern adventure—only to have the younger Gaetz come forward a day later and assert the consultant was behind reports that the congressman had allegedly trafficked a 17-year-old girl.

“Last Monday I got a call from David telling me Don agreed to fund the project and I’ll be sending you operating money on Tuesday,” Kent said. “Then that evening Congressman Gaetz went on the news.”

In another interview Monday night with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Kent reiterated that “this was no an extortion attempt” but that he mentioned the congressman’s potential legal problems because “he’s in need of goodwill from the government.”

Asked why he wrote to the Gaetz family that an indictment was imminent and whether he realized that could be an implied threat, Kent merely said there was “no threat” and that he didn’t “have anything to do with the indictment” or investigation.

Kent also claimed that if the congressman really believed he was being extorted, “he could have kept this quiet and gone to the FBI” but that he instead “exposed the Levinson family to additional grief, and he’s capitalizing off that and trying to direct attention from himself.”

He added: “Robert Levinson is a constituent of Matt Gaetz, and you know. The congressman just made the Levinson situation worse. If he is alive, he is directly impacting his predicament right now.”

Cuomo further pressed Kent on specific details he included in his letter to the Gaetz family, namely Kent’s claims that the FBI was supposedly aware of compromising pictures involving the congressman and underage prostitutes.

“How confident are you in what you are told?” Cuomo wondered aloud.

“So you can never be confident of rumors. Those are just rumors that are rampant in north Florida among the legal and journalist communities,” Kent responded, adding: “I don’t have any information on a federal investigation. Those were just rumors that were circulating.”

In the end, asked whether he was concerned about anything he may have said on tape in conversations with Don Gaetz, Kent insisted that he hopes “the father was wearing a wire.”

Neither the congressman nor a lawyer for his father immediately responded to a request for comment. Like Kent, they denied any wrongdoing.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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