Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera funneled at least $69,000 in secret campaign cash to a ringer candidate in the 2012 congressional election, according to the Federal Election Commission — which wants the Republican ex-congressman to pay $486,000 in civil penalties.
The FEC sued Rivera in Miami federal court Friday, seeking the penalties over the unreported money Rivera and Ana Alliegro, a GOP political consultant, used five years ago to prop up straw candidate Justin Lamar Sternad against Joe Garcia in the Democratic primary. Garcia ultimately defeated Rivera in the 2012 general election.
“Rivera’s scheme involved concealing in-kind contributions by paying vendors mostly in cash to produce and distribute materials for Sternad’s campaign,” FEC attorney Sana Chaudhry wrote in the civil complaint against Rivera.
“Sternad’s disclosure reports failed to disclose the true source of the contributions, instead falsely stating that the contributions were loans from Sternad’s personal funds. Rivera took several measures to conceal his involvement and the source of the contributions.”
Sternad and Alliegro, whom Rivera used as his go-between, wound up with federal criminal convictions in the notorious illegal campaign-finance case. Rivera, however, has managed to avoid all criminal charges. The statute of limitations on criminal charges expires next month.
The FEC’s civil case, in the works since April 2013 but delayed until now, is the latest indication that Miami federal prosecutors, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill, don’t intend to criminally charge Rivera — even though U.S. District Judge Robert Scola took the extraordinary step of forcing Mulvihill to name Rivera as the target of his investigation back in 2014.
The FEC lawsuit was first reported by Politico Florida. The illicit campaign-finance scheme was revealed in 2012 by the Miami Herald.
Rivera, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing — or that he’s being investigated at all — could not be reached for comment Monday. His cellphone recording says he’s out of the country.
Rivera is now a 2018 candidate for Florida House District 105. Last year, he narrowly lost another state House bid.
The U.S. attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
According to the FEC, Rivera denied breaking the law through an attorney in September 2013. Last April, following the conclusion of its investigation, FEC investigators notified Rivera that they planned to recommend the commission find probable cause against Rivera. He did not respond, the complaint says.
The Washington-based commission voted 5-0 on June 1 and notified Rivera the next day. Unable to reach a deal with the former congressman, the FEC sued Friday. Rivera is charged with breaking a portion of the Federal Election Campaign Act that prohibits making political donations in someone else’s name.
Though the complaint says Rivera helped Sternad get $69,426 in campaign funds, it also notes that after pleading guilty, Sternad filed amended finance reports that disclosed $81,438 in money from “unknown contributors.”
Rivera arranged for cash to be sent to Sternad, his campaign committee and campaign vendors, the FEC found. On six different occasions in July and August of 2012, Rivera paid nearly $70,000 for graphic design, printing, mailers and “rapid mail” services for the Sternad campaign, according to Chaudhry — often cutting checks or delivering bundles of cash to vendors through Alliegro or a courier, Sunshine State Messenger Service.
On one occasion Rivera personally delivered a check, for $13,824.85, to Expert Printing. The check was cut from an account by the Florida Action Network, a nonprofit Rivera had co-founded only months earlier. The check was signed by Ivette Pinto, a Rivera aide.
“Rivera worked with the vendors, separately and with Alliegro, to design and distribute materials for the Sternad campaign,” Chaudhry wrote. “Rivera attempted to conceal his involvement in the scheme to provide undisclosed funds to the vendors. In one instance, Expert Printing put Rivera’s name on an invoice for services it provided to the Sternad Committee. In response, Rivera insisted that the vendor not use his name on the invoices.”
Sternad pleaded guilty in 2013 to violating federal election laws and was sentenced to 30 days in prison and three months’ house arrest. Alliegro, who fled to Nicaragua with Rivera’s help but was eventually arrested, pleaded guilty in 2014 and was sentenced to one year, split between prison and house arrest, for conspiring to finance Sternad’s candidacy with a person identified in court documents only as “Co-Conspirator A.” Judge Scola forced prosecutor Mulvihill to name Rivera as the co-conspirator twice in open court.
Last year, Rivera disclosed his net worth had grown to more than $1.5 million. He lists himself as a business consultant, though he’s repeatedly declined to detail which industries or businesses he works for. He loaned himself $50,000 to run for the state House in 2016, and has already loaned himself $250,000 for the 2018 race against fellow Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez, a Doral councilwoman.
Last year, a Tallahassee appeals court upheld a $57,821.96 Florida Commission on Ethics fine against Rivera over improperly disclosed income and double-billed travel expenses, but Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is empowered to fine former state lawmakers, has yet to impose it.
Local Republicans seemed wary of getting close to Rivera in the throes of the criminal investigation involving Sternad and Alliegro, but they appear to have gotten over that sentiment. Last month, he had the prominent role of introducing longtime friend and White House Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway at the Miami-Dade Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day fundraiser.