Ana Alliegro, the gal pal of former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, was arrested and informally extradited Friday from Nicaragua to Miami, where a federal grand jury charged her in a four-count indictment for her alleged role in a campaign-finance scheme tied to the one-time congressman.
She will be locked up in a federal detention center until her first court appearance Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick White.
Alliegro had fled to Nicaragua in 2012 as the FBI began investigating her and Rivera in a scheme to steer and conceal $82,000 in illegal campaign contributions to a no-name congressional candidate, who appeared to be doing Rivera’s political dirty work. That candidate, Justin Lamar Sternad, subsequently pleaded guilty to breaking federal campaign-finance laws and lying about it.
Now, the 44-year-old Alliegro faces charges of helping Sternad make false statements on his campaign reports and of making illegal contributions well in excess of federal campaign limits. If convicted, she faces up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.
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Rivera has not been charged. Neither Alliegro nor Rivera, who have long denied wrongdoing, could be reached for comment.
The indictment against Alliegro lists unnamed co-conspirators.
The federal investigation began after the Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald first reported Sternad’s suspicious campaign activity in the Aug. 14, 2012, primary. Sternad, who had little personal wealth and no campaign experience, was spending big on slickly made campaign mailers that attacked fellow Democrat Joe Garcia, a longtime foe of Rivera’s.
Sternad told the Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald and federal authorities at one point that Alliegro ran his Democratic campaign — an odd position for the self-described Republican “bad girl” who was a close associate of the Republican congressman.
“I later discovered that Ana Alliegro was working with David Rivera,” Sternad wrote in an amended campaign-finance report that the Federal Elections Commission posted Jan. 30. In his initial campaign reports in 2012, Sternad didn’t report the sources of income for the mailers. And two campaign vendors told The Herald that Alliegro and Rivera were behind Sternad’s campaign.
That’s when the FBI investigation began.
In September 2012, at Alliegro’s Miami home, federal authorities gave her a subpoena and brought along local police who arrested Alliegro on an outstanding traffic charge, her mother said at the time. After spending time in local jail, where she complained of the smell or urine and the coldness, Alliegro skipped a meeting with federal authorities and fled to the colonial Nicaraguan town of Granada in September 2012.
Alliegro then opened Euro Salon and Spa, and gave media interviews where she claimed she was the victim of lies against her character. While in Nicaragua, Alliegro was frequently visited by Rivera, who remained in contact with her by email and phone as well, the Herald learned.
At one point last year, after negotiations with her lawyer, Alliegro returned to the United States and met with federal authorities. She surrendered her passport but somehow skipped town again and fired her attorney, Mauricio Padilla.
On Tuesday, the U.S. embassy in Managua issued a request for Alliegro’s detention. The Nicaraguan National Police Force arrested her the same day, took her to a detention center in Managua. They then handed her over to the FBI.
The Nicaraguan news media was alerted to give her a so-called “perp walk” where an alleged perpetrator of a crime is paraded in front of the media.
“She entered the country, at the time, with her passport, legally,” Glenda Zavala, general commissioner of the Nicaraguan National Police Force told the news media. “Right now, she’s illegal because her stay in our country had expired, according to the documentation we obtained when we detained her.”
By processing Alliegro into the United States late Friday, federal authorities helped ensure she’d stay in jail over the weekend, sources said.
Once the feds had her in custody in Miami, U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer’s office released the grand jury indictment, dated Feb. 20. The document details how Alliegro and up to two unnamed co-conspirators got involved in Sternad’s campaign as early as April 2012, leading up to the Aug. 14 primary.
According to the indictment, Alliegro’s first payment to Sternad came as $500 in cash she hand-delivered to him in May 2012. Alliegro’s first payment to Sternad came as $500 in cash she hand-delivered to him in May 2012.
From there, Sternad received multiple illegal cash payments for work at Expert Printing & Graphics and Rapid Mail & Computer Services, vendors used for years by Rivera and other Republican candidates.
Alliegro allegedly deposited $1,060 in Sternad’s personal Wells Fargo bank account on a day when he leased an automobile from Enterprise Rent-A-Car to use during his campaign.
Alliegro and one of her co-conspirators allegedly met with a graphic designer to develop fliers for Sternad, the indictment said. At least one of the dozen or so fliers Sternad supposedly issued during the campaign attacked Garcia, his purported opponent, over his divorce.
Federal election laws limit contributions to political committees to $2,500 and prohibits cash contributions of more than $100. It’s also illegal to file false federal elections forms, but Alliegro allegedly advised Sternad to lie on the filings.
All of the byzantine machinations were for naught, however. Garcia beat Sternad in the Democratic primary and then, amid the federal investigation, he bested Rivera and now represents the state’s southernmost congressional district, which stretches from the Miami area to Key West.
Miami Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this report.