L amar Will Take Us Far.
The catchy slogan of the congressional candidate who called himself Lamar Sternad was the earliest indication of a campaign of deception. His first name isn’t Lamar.
But Justin Lamar Sternad’s slogan was spot-on in one regard.
Of the hundreds of no-name political neophytes who mount quixotic bids for office in Miami, Sternad went further than them all: The 10th floor of a federal justice building.
There in open court Friday, Sternad was formally accused of violating three federal laws stemming from his suspicious campaign finances, which were uncovered in an investigation by The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.
Sternad earned the distinction of running a truly far-out campaign, one of the most-cynical, scandalous and strange South Florida has ever seen.
His campaign involved false federal campaign finance reports, at least $81,486 in secret checks and cash (much of it in $100 bills stuffed in envelopes), a bad boy of Miami politics, and a femme fatale of a campaign consultant, Ana Alliegro.
Alliegro’s whereabouts are unclear to the public. She skipped out on talking with the FBI in September.
Her close friend, former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, is the feds’ ultimate target.
The Miami Republican, who denies wrongdoing, is suspected by investigators and accused by campaign vendors of helping secretly back Sternad to undermine a rival, Joe Garcia, in the Democratic primary for the 26th Congressional District, 26, which stretches from West Miami-Dade to Key West.
Garcia’s now a congressman.
Sternad’s now a defendant. He’s cooperating with the feds.
Alliegro and Rivera aren’t named in Sternad’s federal charging document, which lists nameless “co-conspirators.”
But without Alliegro, it could be a challenge to prosecute Rivera.
Coincidentally, Sternad launched his masquerade of a campaign on the holiday that celebrates disguises: Halloween. In a letter dated Oct. 31, 2011, he notified the state of his intention to run.
Was he a plant, a ringer for Rivera, from the get-go? Or was he like so many other folks with no political experience who decide to run for office in the hope of making a Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington difference?
“I’m running for Congress because right now there’s a high discontent with the recycling of establishment politicians,” Sternad said in a May interview with CBS4’s Elliot Rodriguez.
Days later, he started receiving the unreported cash that would be his downfall, federal records show.
During the CBS4 interview, the Democratic Sternad pointedly avoided criticizing the Republican congressman, saying it would be “pretty pretentious or arrogant of me to start going after David Rivera’s jugular like one of the other candidates, Joe Garcia’s doing. He’s mud-slinging.”
Sternad went on to call Garcia a “three-time loser.”
On Friday, it was clear Sternad lost big.
Wearing a gray polo shirt, Sternad was the only of the defendants not dressed in a tan jail jumper. He never said a word.
It’s unclear when Sternad first wound up on a crash-course with the justice system — that is, when he first came into contact with Alliegro, his de facto campaign manager.
Under one version of events (and there are a few) she happened to wander into the Wyndham Garden South Beach hotel where she (unintentionally?) ran into Sternad, who worked at the hotel. They got to talking.