Campaign finance

David Rivera caught on tape, but what did he say?

 

mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

A friend of former U.S. Rep. David Rivera who’s implicated in a federal corruption investigation made a recording of the Republican last year — and now prosecutors have the evidence, The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald have learned.

Ana Alliegro made the recording, perhaps secretly, months before the FBI raided her home and seized her computer last year. She later skipped town and was last seen in Nicaragua.

Alliegro played a key role in the ill-fated Democratic congressional campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad, who in February admitted receiving $81,486 in illegal contributions and aid from unnamed “coconspirators.”

Rivera denies wrongdoing.

Whether prosecutors want to or can use the recording, however, is unclear.

If Alliegro secretly recorded Rivera, there’s a good chance it was illegally made and is therefore not easily admissible, lawyers say. Also, it’s unclear whether the recording made by Alliegro is evidence of a crime.

Alliegro and Rivera discussed Sternad’s campaign on the recording, one source familiar with the recording said, but declined to discuss details.

Federal investigators played the recording last year for Sternad, who acknowledged that he had previously listened to the recording.

“This is my insurance policy against David,” Sternad recalled Alliegro saying about the recording. He also had said last year that Alliegro made the recording in Rivera’s car, which she jokingly called “the gangster mobile.”

Recently, two FBI agents also played the tape for longtime political consultant Al Lorenzo, who was talking about an unrelated matter to Rivera by cellphone when Alliegro made the recording in the car.

Except for the chance discussion with Rivera, Lorenzo is not involved in the case at all.

Lorenzo said he had returned a call from Rivera, who was asking him to sponsor a table for the Miami-Dade Republican Party’s June 30 Lincoln Day Dinner fundraiser. Donors paid anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 to sponsor a table, depending on its location.

“I remember saying at the time: ‘David, you only call me when you want money,’” Lorenzo told The Herald. “In the end, I didn’t contribute.”

Lorenzo told The Herald that two FBI agents played him a portion of the recording and asked him to corroborate the voices.

“I told them one of the voices was David,” Lorenzo said. “The second one sounded like Ana because she cursed a lot.”

Lorenzo said only Rivera and Alliegro could be heard in the recording. And he was only played a portion of the recording during which he spoke.

Attorney Rick Yabor, who represents Sternad, confirmed the existence of the recording and said, “Lorenzo was clearly an innocent party in this.” Yabor would say no more about the recording.

Attorney Mauricio Padilla, who represents Alliegro, declined to discuss the recording.

Florida law makes it illegal for someone to secretly record a private conversation. And federal law generally forbids the court use of illegally recorded conversations.

“In Florida state court, that evidence would be inadmissible,” said David O. Markus, a former federal public defender in the Southern District of Florida who now works in private practice. “But in federal court, the admissibility of a recording like this is a lot more murky,” Markus added. “This is a question subject to a lot of debate.”

Just how many other recordings, if any, Alliegro made is unclear. So is the other evidence in the case.

Federal court documents show how Sternad’s co-conspirators steered illegal cash and checks to fund his candidacy, which officially ended Aug. 14 when he lost the Democratic primary to Joe Garcia in the Key West-to-Kendall seat.

Sternad’s candidacy was dedicated at times to trashing Garcia, a rival of Rivera, who lost to Garcia in the general election in November.

Sternad is cooperating with prosecutors, who asked a federal judge Thursday to sentence him below federal guidelines because of his assistance in the case.

The FBI began investigating Sternad after The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald ran a series of reports questioning how he could afford so many campaign expenditures that weren’t reported. Alliegro’s involvement in the Democrat’s campaign was suspicious because she’s a Republican consultant.

Two campaign vendors told The Herald and El Nuevo Herald last year that Alliegro and Rivera were behind Sternad’s campaign all along.

Alliegro began speaking up recently and gave an interview last month to Miami New Times, denying wrongdoing.

She has told others that she recorded Rivera, who has maintained contact with Alliegro in Nicaragua.

Rivera has been quietly seeking legal counsel and banking on the fact that Alliegro has been erratic — which has become a tormenting double-edged sword for him.

Before she stopped speaking to El Nuevo Herald and The Herald, Alliegro said she was not going to be a political punching bag.

“This is a movie,” Alliegro said. “And I am not going to take a fall for anyone, not even David.”

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