Ana Alliegro, a central player in a federal elections investigation of former Congressman David Rivera, returned from self-imposed exile in Nicaragua and is talking with authorities, the Miami Herald has learned.
A gal pal of Rivera’s, Alliegro and the former Miami Republican representative have been under FBI scrutiny ever since she helped run the law-breaking campaign of Democrat Justin Lamar Sternad in 2012.
Sternad pleaded guilty this year to federal charges of accepting $81,486 in illegal campaign contributions, conspiracy and making a false statement.
Some of that illegal money — allegedly handled in cash by Alliegro — was used by Sternad to bash a rival of Rivera’s, Joe Garcia. He went on to beat Sternad in the primary and then the Republican in the general election.
Alliegro has denied wrongdoing repeatedly, but fled the country about a year ago amid the investigation into Sternad, whose campaign came under FBI scrutiny in response to multiple Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald reports.
Multiple sources say Alliegro voluntarily arrived in Miami this weekend. Her passport was taken by federal agents and she spoke with investigators Monday. She is negotiating a deal to avoid prison time.
“The deal is simple: cooperate,” said a source familiar with the case. “They want Rivera.”
Alliegro is scheduled to speak with investigators Thursday around the time that a grand jury will hear more evidence.
Asked specifically about the timeline and information, Alliegro’s attorney, Mauricio Padilla, pointedly said “no comment.”
Rivera, who also has denied wrongdoing, could not be reached.
Sternad has told reporters and investigators that he suspected Rivera was behind the illegal activity and said Alliegro “manipulated” him.
“When we first met she told me there were some Democratic donors who were willing to support me in the campaign, and that she could help me get the contributions,” Sternad told America TeVé recently.
“I was new at this game,” Sternad said. “It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”
Rivera has been under federal scrutiny for years, initially stemming from his acceptance of a secret $500,000 dog-track consulting payment that he refused to initially disclose.
Amid that inquiry, Rivera ran for office again in a newly drawn district that had considerably more Democratic voters and included the more-liberal Florida Keys.
Garcia, who was defeated by Rivera in 2010, filed to run against the congressman for a second time. Other Democrats filed as well, including Sternad, a political unknown.
Soon Sternad began eschewing criticisms of Rivera so that he could attack Garcia personally. Sternad produced about a dozen different types of high-quality mailers, one of which criticized Garcia for his divorce.
Sternad never accounted for how it was paid.
Though a Democrat with no significant campaign funds to speak of, Sternad used a printer, data analyst and mail house that were all tied to the Republican Rivera.
The mail house owner told the Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald that Rivera and Alliegro were behind the mailers, with Alliegro paying for some of them with envelopes stuffed with $100 bills.
The data analyst produced an email showing Rivera had targeted the homes that received Sternad’s mail. The printer refused comment.
At the same time that Sternad’s campaign was breaking election law, Garcia’s campaign was as well, however.
After a Miami Herald report raised questions about suspicious absentee-ballot requests during the August 2012 Democratic primary, the state attorney’s office tracked some of them to three Garcia campaign workers.
Two workers’ homes were subsequently raided and Garcia’s top adviser and chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia, admitted he was behind it.
No relation to the congressman, Jeffrey Garcia was promptly fired from his job and pleaded guilty Monday to masterminding the scheme, which did not result in any fraudulent ballots cast. Rep. Joe Garcia denied wrongdoing.
Now, Jeffrey Garcia faces yet another investigation involving yet another shadowy candidate in yet another campaign that involved Joe Garcia and David Rivera.
In 2010, a political unknown and friend of Jeffrey Garcia named Jose Rolando ‘Roly’ Arrojo ran as a Tea Party candidate and attacked Rivera using secretly funded mailers.
The scheme appeared similar to Sternad’s two years later, and Sternad’s lawyer, Rick Yabor, complained to the FBI and the news media that Arrojo should be investigated as well.
The Miami Herald then began examining the case and learned that Arrojo used a printing and mail house used by Joe Garcia’s campaign. The FBI began investigating, and a campaign consultant then told agents and the Herald that Jeffrey Garcia was behind Arrojo’s mailers.
The Sternad case is a higher priority at the moment. Sternad’s lawyer, Yabor, refused to comment about his client.
Sternad, who is cooperating with authorities, has yet to be sentenced and faces little to no prison time. Alliegro wants the same deal, sources say.
Alliegro, who was jailed briefly on an unrelated traffic citation last year, fled the country soon after. She said she opened a beauty salon in Nicaragua and was in frequent contact with Rivera.
Alliegro’s father told the Miami Herald that he was not underwriting her expenses at the time.
As time dragged on, Alliegro wanted to come home and the feds wanted her to talk. She has one over-arching demand, said one source who knows her: “She definitely doesn’t want to go back to jail.”