Marc Caputo: Ex-Rep. David Rivera — a parent's nightmare

08/24/2014 5:22 PM

08/24/2014 5:23 PM

David Rivera isn’t just a scandal-plagued ex-lawmaker and current congressional candidate.

Rivera is also a parent’s nightmare.

Last week, that awful truth came home to the parents of Ana Alliegro, a 44-year-old political operative who has been sitting in jail for almost six months over a campaign-finance conspiracy that, she admitted Tuesday, was hatched by Rivera.

“If Rivera was indeed her friend, he should have come forth long ago to accept or refute the allegations,” Alliegro’s father, Anselmo Alliegro, wrote in the comments section of a local legal blog.

“She has suffered enough expecting Rivera to come [to] her defense,” he wrote. “A person that shows such callous disregard for a friend’s sacrifice does not deserve loyalty.”

To call Ms. Alliegro “loyal” is an understatement. She was more like a cult adherent to Rivera. Yes, she willingly broke the law, but she was also under his thrall.

The devotion to Rivera, at least at first, was somewhat understandable. He’s charming. Funny. Smart. Hardworking. Powerful. He also has a few media apologists, mainly Spanish-language, who praise him or attack anyone who questions him.

For Alliegro, Rivera implicitly promised political and social status. He also could get his hands on lots of money.

Rivera is also a serial strangler of the truth. I once told him he was congenitally sneaky, and he laughed.

Faced with a simple way to do things or a deceptive and complicated scheme, Rivera at times chose the latter.

Consider what happened when the owners of what became Magic City Casino wanted him in 2006 to lead the successful referendum in Miami-Dade to legalize slot machines. Rivera, then a state legislator, didn’t want anyone to know he was getting paid. So Rivera had the money, as much as $132,000, routed through his mother’s company.

Rivera then falsely denied he was getting even “a penny” from the referendum.

When state investigators learned he had been receiving payments through the gambling deal and failed to report the income, Rivera claimed the money was a loan that he didn’t have to report on public disclosure forms.

Rivera then got money from his mother and her friend to pay back the “loan” to his mother and her friend — coincidentally only after the news broke. Investigators suspected he doctored evidence to avoid charges.

At one point, Rivera claimed he wasn’t even under state investigation — even as his attorney was secretly meeting with prosecutors to successfully prevent a 52-count indictment on the grounds that the law was unclear or the statute of limitations had run out.

State ethics investigators couldn’t make some of the charges stick in a civil proceeding, but an administrative law judge this year recommended that the ethics commission charge him with corruptly handling his finances as a legislator.

Rivera also lied about being a contractor for USAID. The federal agency said it had no records of his employment. Rivera, giving some complicated and shadowy explanation about a friend in Mexico, failed to produce any documentation refuting that.

The Internal Revenue Service also investigated his finances. Rivera denied that was happening as well — even though a lawyer who helped negotiate his Magic City deal told the Miami Herald that federal investigators had interviewed her about the situation.

And, most recently, Rivera also denied that there was any investigation into him as a result of the case that involved Alliegro.

But U.S. District Judge Robert Scola on Tuesday made sure Rivera couldn’t tell that untruth anymore.

When Alliegro admitted guilt, Scola forced the prosecutors to declare that her co-conspirator was Rivera. Scola then asked Alliegro whether everything the prosecutor said was true.

“Yes,” Alliegro said.

In that case, in 2012, prosecutors say Rivera and another person met with Alliegro at the Catch of the Day restaurant, where he told her to fund the long-shot campaign of an unknown named Justin Lamar Sternad.

Why? Because Sternad was running against Joe Garcia in the Democratic primary for the newly drawn Congressional District 26 seat that stretches from Kendall to Key West. Rivera, a Republican, was running for that seat, and faced the prospect of losing to Garcia in the general election.

With Sternad doing Rivera’s dirty work with more than $81,000 of illegal money, Garcia was getting hit from the left and the right.

The plan didn’t work out, though. The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald blew the whistle on Sternad’s suspect campaign-finance reports and suspicious fund-raising. Garcia won the primary and then the general election.

Sternad was indicted, then pleaded guilty. He said he was used.

In the meantime, Alliegro — allegedly with Rivera’s help — fled the country to Nicaragua. There, Rivera visited her (sometimes entering the country via Costa Rica to throw reporters off the scent) and helped support her. She was informally extradited earlier this year, told FBI agents that Rivera was part of the conspiracy, and has been in jail for almost half a year since.

Rivera then inexplicably decided to run to regain his District 26 seat. When the press got bad, Rivera used a phony excuse about activist judges (it’s complicated) and claimed he was suspending his campaign.

Another lie among many. Rivera continued to campaign.

Yet Alliegro remained loyal.

Then, however, her mother fell ill.

“Her mother asked her to consider how her situation has affected the family and her health,” her father wrote. “If she knew that Rivera had actually used her, to come forth with the information.”

Alliegro did that.

Rivera then essentially claimed she was being used by prosecutors.

There was a time when the Alliegro family might have believed him. But no longer.

Now the question becomes how many or how few voters in District 26 understand the lesson the Alliegro family learned the hard way?

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