Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, who has blamed extortionists for his slew of sex scandals, now says “malicious actors” stole more than $150,000 from him as he tried to buy a boat.
A spokesperson for Mr Gaetz told WFLA that a large amount of money “went missing” after the congressman and his fiancee, Ginger Luckey, attempted to buy a $155,000 yacht named Ol Pappy.
“Rep Gaetz and Ms Luckey were the target of a financial crime,” the spokesperson told the station, adding that the congressman has been “targeted by malicious actors, first domestic and now foreign.”
The spokesperson did not say how much money was lost, but said “federal law enforcement” was investigating the case. The FBI declined WFLA’s request for comment.
Sources at the St Petersburg marina where Ol Pappy is docked say the boat was suddenly rechristened “Thirsty” in late April, around the time Mr Gaetz’s purchase of the vessel was supposed to close.
“A little premature without ownership of the boat,” said Jon Golly, a boat owner at the same marina who says he saw Mr Gaetz and Ms Luckey as they inspected the yacht.
Mr Gaetz is already mired in controversy. The Justice Department is now several months into its investigation of whether the congressman hired women for sex across state lines, which could potentially have violated sex trafficking laws. It is also investigating whether Mr Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him.
Mr Gaetz has vehemently denied the allegations, and has not been charged with any crime.
“Over the past several weeks, my family and I have been victims of an organised criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name,” the congressman said in a series of tweets when the probe first came to light.
However, the investigation appears to be closing in on Mr Gaetz’s innermost circle. The congressman’s ex-girlfriend is reportedly now cooperating with the Justice Department, and his friend, former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, has taken a plea deal on his own charges of soliciting sex from a minor.
None of this appears to have held back Mr Gaetz, who is currently traveling on a nationwide speaking tour and recently announced he’ll run for president in 2024 if Donald Trump doesn’t do so.