Politics

Friends poke holes in memo that prosecutor investigating ex-Rep. David Rivera acted badly

Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera wrote a memo intended to impugn the character of a federal prosecutor investigating him. He’s shown here speaking to reporters in 2012.
Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera wrote a memo intended to impugn the character of a federal prosecutor investigating him. He’s shown here speaking to reporters in 2012. EL NUEVO HERALD

Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera wrote a memo to himself last year that portrayed the prolonged criminal investigation against him as a political witch hunt — and the lead prosecutor as an ambitious lawyer who put his career ahead of his ethics.

But the content of the memo appears to be largely fictional — at least the allegations Rivera makes about the veteran federal prosecutor, Thomas J. Mulvihill. Two men named in the explosive memo told the Miami Herald that its claim that they spoke with Rivera and Mulvihill a few years ago to plot out the prosecutor’s quest to become U.S. attorney in South Florida is a fabrication.

“I can guarantee that that never came up,” said one of the men, Felix Rodriguez, an ex-CIA officer and Bay of Pigs Veterans Association president.

“David missed his calling,” said the second man, Sergio Pereira, a longtime government lobbyist who once served as Miami-Dade County manager. He then made reference to a celebrated author who counts a novel about Miami among his works of fiction: “He’s a regular Tom Wolfe.”

The memo claims Mulvihill, while investigating Rivera for suspected tax evasion in 2012, wanted the congressman to put in a good word with Rivera’s friend, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has the power to recommend candidates for U.S. attorney. Rivera never took Mulvihill’s request to Rubio, according to the memo.

The memo’s existence was first revealed by Rivera’s former girlfriend, Ana Alliegro, in a Herald story last month after Alliegro implicated Rivera in a campaign-finance scheme before a federal grand jury. She suggested that Mulvihill was dragging his feet on indicting Rivera because the former congressman might expose the memo’s unseemly allegations. The Herald, which obtained the memo in February, shared it with some of the people mentioned in it for their reaction.

Though its investigation has dragged on for almost 2 1/2 years, the U.S. attorney’s office still intends to charge Rivera, a Republican, with secretly financing a no-name candidate’s failed bid in the 2012 Democratic congressional primary, according to sources familiar with the case. Those sources say the investigation has moved at a glacial pace because Mulvihill and FBI agents have had to carefully check the testimony of Alliegro, who is viewed as a risky cooperating witness because of her history of erratic behavior.

In a sign that Rivera’s memo hasn’t had a significant impact on the investigation, Mulvihill is still at the helm of the political corruption case, despite questions that the memo raised about his ethics. The U.S. attorney’s office has called the allegations against Mulvihill, a 63-year-old Chicago native, “completely false.”

But as with most tales involving Rivera, getting at the truth is challenging.

Rivera, 49, declined to give an on-the-record interview for this story. Mulvihill did not respond to several messages left on his cellphone.

Rodriguez and Pereira dispute the portion of the memo pertaining to Mulvihill. (Another portion recounts Rivera’s dealings with Alliegro and Justin Lamar Sternad, the rookie Democratic primary candidate Alliegro says Rivera directed her to prop up with secret money. Both Sternad and Alliegro pleaded guilty and spent time in prison.)

According to the memo, Rivera and Mulvihill were both guests at a June 2011 birthday party hosted by convicted felon Camilo Padreda, an ex-agent of former Cuban President Fulgencio Batista and an ex-informant for the FBI. The memo says Mulvihill, who was investigating Rivera’s finances, told the congressman at the party that he was “bitter and disappointed” at not being named U.S. attorney during President George W. Bush’s administration.

“Prior to leaving the party, Mr. Mulvihill stood with Mr. Padreda in my company as Mr. Padreda advocated for Mr. Mulvihill to be named the next U.S. Attorney,” the memo says. “Also present during this conversation were Mr. Felix [Rodriguez], Mr. Sergio Pereira and Mr. Pedro Pelaez.”

Pereira said he attended the party. But he told the Herald that no such conversation about Mulvihill ever came up. Both Rivera and Mulvihill attended the party, Pereira said, but “I don’t recall ever participating in a discussion about advocating Tom Mulvihill for [the position] of U.S. attorney.”

He added that the memo “makes no sense.”

“Why would Tom Mulvihill ask David Rivera to do him a favor while he’s investigating him?” Pereira said, calling the prosecutor a “straight shooter.”

Rodriguez also acknowledged that he, Mulvihill and Rivera were all at Padreda’s party. But he denied that the conversation over Mulvihill’s career ambitions ever took place.

Rodriguez further denied another claim in the memo: that he and Padreda met with Rivera over lunch at a Denny’s on Bird Road in the summer of 2012 to ask the congressman to arrange a Mulvihill meeting with Rubio.

“We had lunch, but we didn’t discuss anything about Mr. Mulvihill,” Rodriguez said, adding that he couldn’t remember what they had discussed. He mentioned Rivera’s support in obtaining funds for the Brigade 2506 museum in Little Havana, though that happened before Rivera was in Congress.

According to Rodriguez, Padreda later threw another birthday party — unmentioned in the memo — and also invited Mulvihill. “And when he learned that David Rivera was going to be there, Mulvihill didn’t go,” said Rodriguez, who has known Mulvihill for decades. Yet he couldn’t explain why Mulvihill would have stayed at the first party, in 2011, once he saw Rivera was present.

Neither Padreda nor Pelaez, a former Latin Builders Association president, responded to repeated telephone calls and an email from a reporter.

Jeffrey Sloman, a former U.S. attorney with no ties to the memo, questioned the chronology that the document lays out. “The timetable is wrong,” he said.

The memo says Mulvihill told Rivera he was upset over not being named top prosecutor instead of Marcos Jimenez in 2001. But it wasn’t until after Jimenez stepped down four years later that Mulvihill, his second-in-command, applied to become the acting U.S. attorney and fill the coveted post permanently. Instead, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appointed Alex Acosta, a senior Justice Department lawyer who had grown up in Miami, as Jimenez’s temporary replacement in 2005. It was Acosta who ultimately beat out Mulvihill for the job.

“I believe Tom was disappointed when Gonzales chose Alex Acosta for the position,” not back when Jimenez was appointed, Sloman said.

The memo also claims Rivera twice heard from a go-between that Mulvihill planned to charge the congressman or people close to him, including his late mother, with tax evasion. Both times, in February and September of 2011, the memo says, the message was conveyed to Rivera by attorney Jeffrey Feldman, a mutual friend of Rivera’s and Mulvihill’s. No charges ever materialized.

Feldman, a former federal prosecutor, declined to say anything for this story, saying “it would not be appropriate for me to comment.”

Rivera has not commented publicly on the memo. Rivera’s ex-girlfriend’s father, Anselmo Alliegro, said Rivera handed him the memo on March 21, 2014, at Café Demetrio in Coral Gables. Alliegro then sent it to his daughter’s attorneys, asking whether it would prove useful to her case.

To this day, the elder Alliegro said he doesn’t know how much of the document might be true, though several of the people mentioned in it are among his longtime friends, too. He said he never asked them to confirm the account because he was more concerned with his daughter’s fate.

“I wouldn’t believe what [Rivera] says, because the guy’s a pathological liar,” Anselmo Alliegro said. “What I can’t understand is why David has not been arrested or indicted at this point.”

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