Gaetz's complaints about Iran hostage scheme will not distract FBI probe: source

Mark Hosenball
·2 min read

By Mark Hosenball 

  WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal investigation into whether U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz trafficked a minor for sex will not be derailed by his assertion that a veteran asked his father for money to pay for the release of an American held by Iran, a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said. 

  Investigators believe the purported scheme to free Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007, lacked credibility, the source said. Another U.S. official familiar with the case noted that Levinson's family in March 2020 publicly accepted U.S. government assessments that he died in Iranian custody. 

  Federal investigators are examining the purported attempt while separately also looking into whether Gaetz, a Florida Republican, may have violated sex trafficking laws by paying travel expenses for a 17-year-old female, the law enforcement source said. 

  "One has nothing to do with the other," the source said. 

  Gaetz has not been charged with any crime, has called the accusations false and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. 

  Former U.S. Air Force officer Bob Kent on April 5 told Michael Smerconish's Sirius Radio program that he met with Matt Gaetz's wealthy father Donald Gaetz in March and sought a "$25 million loan" to "buy back" Levinson from the Iranians. The elder Gaetz is a Florida State Senator who was the founder of a healthcare company. 

  Kent did not respond to requests for comment. 

  Matt Gaetz said in a statement last month that he and his family had "been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name." 

  A spokesman for Gaetz and his family has told Reuters that the family "has cooperated with the FBI regarding the evidenced extortion attempt ... They will not comment further on the extortion matter at this time so as not to harm the investigation." 

  The law enforcement source said the FBI's investigation is partly focused on the Gaetz's relationship with Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector for Florida's Seminole County who is under federal indictment on charges including sex trafficking of a child, aggravated identity theft and wire fraud. At a court hearing lawyers for both Greenberg and the prosecution indicated that discussions were in progress regarding a possible guilty plea. 

  (Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)