In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Where’s Ana when you need her?

We so missed Ana.

Nobody said “Ana Sol Alliegro” aloud in the federal courtroom Monday, but her absence was so keenly felt we couldn’t go on without her.

Of course, the FBI and federal prosecutors have badly wanted to hook up with Alliegro for months now, since the Miami campaign operative, the self-styled “bad girl” of local politics, dodged investigators and went off on her self-imposed exile down Nicaragua way.

But nobody needed Ana back in South Florida as much as Justin Sternad, whose sham congressional campaign, under her tutelage, led to his ignominious appearance in federal court Monday, where he faced sentencing for violating federal campaign laws.

Sternad was busted last year after running in the Democratic primary for the Congressional District 26 seat then held by Republican David Rivera. Sternad’s campaign, contrived to make trouble for Rivera’s feared rival (and eventual winner) Joe Garcia, had been financed with $81,486 in mysterious, illegal contributions that Sternad claimed had been provided by Ana Alliegro, a very close confidant of Rivera.

Sternad has been singing like an opera diva since his arrest. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill assured U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum on Monday that Sternad had been cooperative and had “not sought to minimize his role nor sought to protect others.”

In return for this “substantial assistance,” Sternad’s attorneys thought they had struck a lenient sentencing deal — a substantial “downward departure” from the 12 to 18 months prison time called for under federal sentencing guidelines.

But Judge Rosenbaum demanded a few particulars. What exactly was the federal government getting for its leniency? The lawyers huddled. But they couldn’t come up with an actual indictment or arrest brought on by Sternad’s help. No big fish. Not yet. Not without Ana.

Defense lawyer Rick Yabor could only ask for a 90-day continuance, needed, he said, to help prosecutors “fully understand” the extent of Justin’s cooperation. The judge agreed.

What Sternad needs, what he really, really needs in these next 90 days, is for Ana to come home. He needs her to come back from Nicaragua, strike her own deal with prosecutors and help the feds move up the evolutionary ladder and snatch the other unnamed co-conspirator, whose initials, reportedly, just happened to be “D.R.”

Clearly, Sternad himself is not much of a catch. In court Monday, he looked vaguely like a young Karl Rove, with his glasses, receding hairline, weak chin, a little round at the belly. But that was the extent of his resemblance to a political player. Sternad works 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. in a hotel, earning $30,000 a year. Maybe he harbored some hapless notion of graduating from night clerk to U.S. congressman, but his “co-conspirators,” the backers who financed his sham campaign with illegal campaign money, never shared that fantasy.

Sternad was obviously picked to play patsy in this conspiracy. And now he needs Ana to come home and provide a link to “D.R.,” the big fish.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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