In My Opinion

Going far with Lamar? Not so fast

 

fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com

Lamar will take us far. As far as jail, anyway.

Lamar was one of the personae adopted by Justin Sternad, South Florida’s now infamous fake politician. In one of his more endearing incarnations, Justin impersonated a brave, black candidate. His mailer included the slogan, “Lamar will take us far,” the trademark “O” (appropriated from the Obama campaign), and the requisite quote from Martin Luther King: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

Lately, Lamar’s friends — acting on the advice of their attorneys — have gone memorably silent.

That particular campaign flier did not include the candidate’s actual photograph, perhaps because he looked a bit more like a Justin from Nebraska than a Lamar from Liberty City. More like a white, slightly jowly young Republican than a viable black alternative to congressional candidate Joe Garcia in the Democratic primary.

To his credit, Justin Lamar Sternad, a native of Omaha, attempted to clear up misunderstandings about his race with a cryptic e-mail to The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo after Marc had suggested that Sternad’s mailers were a bit misleading. Lamar… or maybe it was Justin… wrote, “You can kiss my ‘lily white’ ass.”

Race hasn’t been only mystery dogging Justin/Lamar. One wonders how this nominal Democrat came to have so many crucial Republican connections. How did a political neophyte, a no-name Democrat with little to show in the way of campaign contributions (other than eleven grand he loaned himself) manage to lure the services of a campaign consultant like Ana Alliegro, the self-described “Republican Political Guru and Conservative Bad Girl?”

When Ana’s bad, she seems to be very bad indeed.

In one of the great, cosmic coincidences of Lamar’s brief political career, it happens that Alliegro also has close ties to Republican U.S. Rep. David Rivera, the very fellow who would have been Sternad’s opponent had he managed to upset Garcia in the Democratic primary. (About as likely as Lamar landing his own talk show on BET. Garcia won the primary with 53 percent of the vote.) Miami New Times found photos of the smiling Alliegro with her buddy Rivera scattered about on her Facebook and Instagram accounts. David and his favorite bad girl guru.

The other mystery — one that may take the FBI to solve — has to do with the money Sternad invested in his quixotic and very nasty campaign against Garcia. It was like magic. Here was this $30,000-a-year hotel worker with an unemployed wife and four children to feed, a political unknown who up and decides to launch his own congressional campaign. It seemed about as likely as me teaming up with Dave Barry to enter the synchronized swimming competition in the London Olympics. Because, you know, Dave ain’t that pretty, I ain’t that spry and Justin/Lamar ain’t nobody anyone has ever heard of.

Yet, as Caputo noted, this fellow of limited wealth reported that he loaned himself $10,878, exhausting all but $438 just to cover his filing fee. That didn’t leave much left over to finance a serious political campaign. Yet Sternad managed a budgeting feat that, if he could work the same magic in Washington, would solve the national deficit with trillions to spare.

Oh, how he stretched that $438. Reporters Caputo and Manny Garcia have detailed how this financial magician spent $43,000 on his campaign — paying the bills with envelopes stuffed with $100 bills. Much of the cash went through Rivera’s favorite vendors and operatives and a certain bad girl guru. Except Sternad’s cash-and-carry campaign didn’t quite jibe with the near-nothing he reported in his federal financial disclosure declarations — at least not until The Herald’s reporting caught the attention of the FBI.

Suddenly, as the feds came sniffing around, Lamar remembered that he had loaned his campaign another $53,000 in addition to that original $11,000 loan. Last week, he filed an amended campaign report. “I did not previously report this loan because I was unaware of the final monetary obligation incurred by my campaign,” he explained to the Federal Elections Commission. (I mean, really, how can a busy congressional candidate be expected to keep up with such piddling minutiae?) Sternad apparently plans to stave off election fraud charges with a legal defense lawyers call “better late than never.”

So, according to the amended report, our 35-year-old $30,000-a-year service industry worker, husband and father of four dug into his personal savings to finance a sure-fire loser of a congressional campaign. Lamar might have an easier time explaining his expenses to the FBI than his wife. “Honey, about that $64,000 in hundred-dollar bills we had kept stashed in the cookie jar….”

Another fellow in dire need of plausible explanations might be David Rivera, who must convince the feds that he wasn’t secretly providing cash and tactical support for the illegal shadow campaign of a patsy named Lamar. A primary campaign, by the way, that was mostly a vicious and mendacious attack on Rivera’s Democratic opponent in the November general election.

Of course, Rivera, unlike Sternad, has plenty of experience wriggling his way out of sticky legal situations. The congressman survived a months-long investigation into his own peculiar campaign expenditures (pioneering the concept of a highly visible girlie companion as necessary political expense for a single guy candidate) and his surreptitious work as a consultant for a dog track. He routed gobs of money through his mother and a family friend who, in turn, loaned the money back to their boy David. None of these transgressions rang up any criminal charges, though the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office blamed the statute of limitations and permissive state laws governing campaign expenses. The feds, however, are still nosing around those old charges.

In Rivera’s defense — the only defense that comes to mind — it’s hard to imagine that with all his other legal problems, with criminal investigators already sifting through his affairs, that he’d sanction such a mindless scheme to mount an illegal campaign against his Democratic opponent. Surely, Rivera wouldn’t risk so much on the vague hope that his alleged co-conspirator wouldn’t flip under the pressure of a criminal investigation. And this particular loser from Omaha looks about as likely to withstand a FBI grilling as my Aunt Millie.

Rivera would know, surely, that Lamar would take him only as far as a federal lock-up.

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