A former candidate under FBI investigation with former U.S. Rep David Rivera surrendered Friday afternoon and was to be charged with federal crimes over his campaign finances.
The charges against Justin Lamar Sternad stem from an investigation by the newspapers, which first found discrepancies in his congressional campaign-finance reports last August.
The FBI then began investigating Sternad, whose reports could have concealed as much as $100,000 in services and mailers, some of which attacked a Democratic rival of Rivera, who is a Republican.
Sternad is to surrender 2 p.m. Friday in federal court and be charged with lying on his federal campaign reports to hide the source of secret money funneled into his run for Congress. Sternad will also be charged with conspiring with others as part of the alleged scheme to defraud the United States.
Sternad, cooperating with authorities, is expected to plead not guilty. His lawyer, Enrique Rick Yabor, refused comment.
Although Rivera is a target of the investigation, his name is nowhere in the indictment of Sternad, a source told the newspapers.
SPOKE TO GRAND JURY
Sternad and two campaign vendors who performed work for him have talked to the FBI and a federal grand jury to describe Riveras involvement in Sternads mercurial bid for Congress, which ended Aug. 14 when he lost the Democratic primary to Joe Garcia, who later beat Rivera in the general election.
A close friend of Riveras, Ana Alliegro, worked as Sternads campaign manager and repeatedly delivered fat stacks of cash to Rapid Mail & Computer Service, owner John Borrero told The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and then the FBI.
Another vendor, Hugh Cochran of Campaign Data, told the newspapers and FBI agents that he spoke with Rivera about running computer queries to identify voters to whom the different mailers were sent.
A third vendor, Expert Printing, produced the mailers but has refused to talk to The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.
Rivera has denied wrongdoing. He could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Alliegro, who was supposed to talk to the FBI in September, skipped out on her meeting with federal agents and is rumored to be overseas. Initially, Alliegros parents and lawyer didnt know her whereabouts. Now she has been in contact with them.
Without Alliegros testimony, federal authorities could have trouble determining Riveras actual links to the unreported stacks of cash that funded Sternads campaign.
Sternad became a FBI target soon after a series of stories published in The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald that raised questions about his campaign during the Democratic primary. Sternad had sent out at least a dozen well-designed mailers targeted to different types of voters: environmentalists, African-Americans, immigration hard-liners and those with rural sentiments.
One of the mailers, sent to women, savaged Joe Garcia for his divorce. The mailer echoed a line of attack that originated with Rivera.
Garcias campaign, which refused comment Thursday, found the sophisticated campaign work highly suspicious for a political newcomer with no name and little money. Sternad, a married father of five and employed at a Miami Beach hotel, had had financial troubles in the past.
Yet, despite the expensive mailings, Sternads campaign-finance reports at the time listed no campaign vendors and claimed he raised only $11,383.60, which wasnt nearly enough to cover the cost of the mailers through July. After the campaign vendors told The Herald and El Nuevo Herald that many of Sternads expenses were paid in cash and far exceeded the amounts listed in his reports, Sternad then claimed he loaned himself $64,356.70 a huge sum for someone whose assets were minimal.