Rivera, 47, worked in the 1990s for the U.S. Information Agency, the department that oversaw Radio and TV Martí. In 1996, he served as the South Florida campaign manager for the presidential campaign of Republican Sen. Bob Dole.
Rivera was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2002, and he rose to become a top lieutenant to then-Speaker Marco Rubio, Rivera’s longtime friend and Tallahassee roommate. He served eight years in the Legislature without opposition before making a run for Congress in 2010 with the retirement of Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart.
But the high-profile congressional campaign brought increased scrutiny of Rivera’s finances.
In October 2010, The Miami Herald reported that Rivera had never worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development, as he claimed in several years of financial disclosure forms, and that he paid campaign funds to a company founded by his mother. Rivera insists that he worked for a USAID vendor, but he has refused to name the company, which investigators never could find.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement then launched a probe of a secret $1 million consulting deal between Rivera and the Flagler Dog Track to run a campaign to win voter approval for slot machines in Miami-Dade. The investigation expanded to focus on Rivera’s campaign accounts, which often were used to pay expenses on his personal credit cards.
Miami-Dade prosecutors ultimately determined that the statute of limitations had lapsed on many potential charges, and weaknesses in campaign finance laws made prosecution difficult. But the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service are now investigating whether Rivera should have paid taxes on the money from the dog track deal.
In late October, the state Ethics Commission charged Rivera with 11 ethics violations stemming from the dog-track contract and his use of campaign funds.
The FBI is also investigating whether Rivera secretly financed an opponent of Garcia’s in the Democratic primary, potentially violating campaign-finance laws. Witnesses have told investigators and The Herald that Rivera steered thousands of dollars in cash to pay for mailers and campaign material for Justin Lamar Sternad, a first-time candidate who reported only $505 in campaign contributions.
Rivera has denied wrongdoing, and during the home stretch of the campaign he insisted that the FBI probe was an invention of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.
Rivera said Wednesday that he had made no decisions on what he would do once he leaves public office.
“I’m going to get with my family and friends and supporters and discuss how I can best continue to contribute to our community’s best interests, whether that be in public office or out of public office,” he said. “Time will tell.”