One of the men accused of trying to extort Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz admits he approached Gaetz’s father for money to help find a former FBI agent missing in Iran, but denies trying to extort the family.
Former Air Force intelligence officer Bob Kent confirmed to SiriusXM Radio that he had approached Don Gaetz after learning that his son was under federal investigation for potential sex crimes.
The Justice Department is investigating whether Matt Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and violated federal sex trafficking laws, according to The New York Times. The Republican congressman denies having a sexual relationship with a minor.
Kent says he asked the older Gaetz, a wealthy former Florida Senate president, for a $25 million loan to help rescue Robert Levinson. The retired FBI agent vanished 14 years ago in Iran and is considered the longest-held hostage in American history.
“Matt Gaetz is in need of good publicity, and I’m in need of $25 million to save Robert Levinson,” Kent told radio host Michael Smerconish in an interview Monday, adding that he has evidence Levinson is still alive.
Levinson disappeared on Iran’s remote Kish Island in March 2007 during an unauthorized CIA mission that the US government for years claimed was a private business trip. He hasn’t been seen or heard from publicly since, and the Iranian government denied holding the veteran agent in its custody.
Levinson’s family said in a March 2020 statement that Levinson died sometime before the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran, an assessment shared by the US government. His remains have not been recovered.
Kent's comments follow a Washington Post report last week that the senior Gaetz was approached by Kent and former federal prosecutor David McGee, who has represented the Levinson family. They reportedly told Don Gaetz that if he provided the funds and Levinson was released, it could help his son win much-needed public goodwill amid the investigation.
The Justice Department probe of Matt Gaetz hadn’t yet been made public when Don Gaetz was approached with the reported offer from Kent and McGee.
"At first he started laughing and he said, ‘You know we get these extortion attempts all the time,’" Kent said of his interaction with Don Gaetz. "And I said, whoa, stop. This is not an extortion attempt. I’m not trying to extort him, I’m not, you know, that’s not what we’re doing here."
Don Gaetz reached out to the FBI over concerns his family was being extorted, the Post reports. For his part, Kent insisted he never threatened Don Gaetz and told him if he decided not to fund the rescue scheme, “he’ll never hear from me again.”
The Levinson family has yet to comment publicly on Kent’s claim that Levinson is still alive.
A Biden administration statement in March said the United States will “continue to demand answers” from Iran about Levinson. In what marked the first public actions the US government had taken against Tehran over his abduction, the Trump administration in December sanctioned two high-ranking Iranian intelligence officials over Levinson’s abduction, detention and probable death.